Soave has several identities, from simple sipping wine to a long-aging white with distinct minerality and outstanding complexity. Unfortunately too may consumers only associate Soave with the first description; yet the truth today is that there are dozens of the area’s producers that are crafting glorious bottlings. First and foremost among those is Leonildo Pieropan.
The Pieropan family has winemaking roots in the Soave area from 1890; here at their palazzo in the town of Soave, Leonildo Pieropan, Senior, was creating the lovely dessert wine, Recioto di Soave. Today his grandson Leonildo is considered one of the stalwarts of this area, working “with the precision of a Swiss watch,” as written in a brief introductory text in Duemilavini, the wine guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers (A.I.S.).
While Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave, there are many who will tell you that his Soave Classico normale bottling is his finest; it certainly is his most representative everyday Soave offering. It is produced from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave in most years and offers textbook aromas of honeydew melon and yellow flowers backed by lively acidity and a touch of minerality. It is beautifully balanced and has excellent complexity; all of this is especially nice, considering the $15 retail price in America (and I’ve seen it for less in some areas.)
There are two other special Soaves made at Pieropan; Calvarino and La Rocca. Calvarino, produced from an estate vineyard of volcanic soils, is 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave; Pieropan has opted for this blend as it was a typical one from decades past in this area. The wine receives no wood aging, as Pieropan opts to let the perfumes of the varieties emerge. This wine ages beautifully, usually drinking well for 10-12 years. I recall tasting the 1989 bottling at the winery in 2006 – it was sublime!
La Rocca, also made from a single vineyard (the oldest vines here are 50 years old), is 100% Garganega that has been aged in mid-size and large barrels for one year. This is a lush, almost fat Soave with great concentration and a well-structured finish. This is also a wine for cellaring; generally the wine is at its best from 10-12 years of age. This is a very individualistic bottling, yet it is without doubt a Soave; today there are a few other producers in the area that have used La Rocca as a model for their top offering.
What strikes you about each of the three wines is the combination of richness, yet at the same time elegance. While the La Rocca is a very powerful rendering of Soave, it never goes over the top, maintaining its finesse. This is an admirable quality, and one that certainly matches the character of Leonildo Pieropan, a confident, assured individual, who is also down to earth. I met with him at this year’s VinItaly wine fair and was impressed by his easy-going, charming ways. I spoke with him about the refined qualities of his wine and he replied with a quote that I think befits his winemaking philosophy quite well. “Elegance is one of the most difficult qualities to transmit in a wine. But when you understand it, it is the one that brings the greatest pleasure.” A lovely thought and one I think many other wine producers believe in as well; yet I’ve never heard it professed as eloquently as I have from Leonildo Pieropan.
There is also a stunning example of the famed dessert wine, Recioto di Soave, that Pieropan labels Le Colombare. A few years ago, Pieropan opted to produce local red wines as well; the first effort a wine called Ruberpan, an IGT blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Croatina from the Val d’Illasi hills. Now comes the exciting news that he has added Amarone to his production. I tasted the inital 2006 release (this will be available in the autumn of 2010) and as you might expect, this is a rich, yet restrained offering of this famous Venetian red. There’s that elegance again, this time in a wine most people think of as powerful. But as this was made by Leonildo Pieropan, would you expect anything else?