Posts tagged ‘soave classico’

Rediscovering Soave

Castello di Soave (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

It’s always a pleasure to be in the town of Soave and the surrounding wine zone, easily one of my favorites in all of Italy. This was especially true for my most recent visit the last few days of May, as I hadn’t been there in four years, so it was definitely time for a return trip. Making this an even more enjoyable stay was the fact that I would be visiting producers with Giovanni Ponchia from the Soave Consorzio. Giovanni set up the tour and put together a wonderful mix of small producers along with cooperatives; he planned stops at some of my favorite producers I have become friends with over the years and also introduced me to some excellent producers I have never visited, such as Corte Adami, Dal Cero, Filippi and Fattori. It was an excellent three days – grazie tanti, Giovanni!

Vineyards at Castelcerino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A lot of people know the name Soave, but unless you’ve been there or have tasted a lot of wines from there, chances are you really know only a little bit about Soave. What I mean by this is that Soave has an image of being a pleasant, refreshing wine to drink young and while there are many examples in this manner, the truth is that there are a few dozen producers in the area that have elevated Soave into a complex white with distinct minerality that can age for more than a decade. To me, Soave at its best is a white that ranks with the finest in Italy.

The reason these wines can be so good are the vineyards. You might view Soave from the A4 autostrada and see the beautiful castello as pictured above and think to yourself what a lovely little postcard of a town. But all around the old town are hillside vineyards some 400-1200 feet above sea level. Many of these cru are comprised of basalt rock or volcanic stone, which explains the minerality in the wines, while other sites are more dominated by calcaire (limestone). Given the excellent drainage of hillside vineyards, yields are naturally low, which provides more deeply concentrated wines which can age for many years. Among the finest cru are Castelcerino, Pressoni, Foscarino and Frosca.

Regarding this last cru, Frosca is one source of grapes for Gini, one of the area’s premier producers. The Gini brothers, Sandro and Claudio, produce several bottlings of Soave, from a typical Soave Classico, blended from several sites to the old vines bottling labeled Contrada Selvaneza to the Frosca bottling itself. I was able to taste several vintages of the Frosca bottling at the winery, including 2009, 2007 and 1997, but it was the 1990 bottling that really opened my eyes. With a light yellow color that was amazing for a 20-year old wine, the wine offered aromas of wet stone, dried pear and apple peel, backed by excellent concentration and a flinty finish with vibrant acidity that made me think I was drinking a Grand Cru Chablis. The wine was in amazing shape and has another 7-10 years of life ahead of it.

Filippo Filippi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Another great Soave producer is Filippi, located in the Castelcerino sottozona. I had tasted his 2008 Castelcerino bottling a year ago and was impressed not only with the complexity, but also the flavor profile – its strong minerality was reminiscent of a single vineyard Chablis. Headed by Filippo Filipi, this is an organic estate that is among the most precise in the area. The care that Filippo takes with his vineyards is evident in his various bottlings of Soave, from the Castelcerino (2009 is the current release) to the Monteseroni bottling (vines here were planted in the 1950s) and the Vigne della Bra offering. My favorite this time around  was the 2008 Monteseroni with its excellent depth of fruit, lengthy finish and stylish acidity. (While 2009 is arguably the best vintage of the past few years in Soave, 2008 is almost as good – and even better for some wines – as the wines from that year offer amazing aromatics and ideal acidity. The 2008s will drink well for another 5-7 years, at least).

There were several other excellent producers that I visited, such as Ca’Rugate, Coffele, Agostino Vicentini and Monte Tondo, but instead of detailing every piece of information, let me list a few of my favorite wines from the trip. Note that most bottlings of Soave are not aged in wood; this not only preserves the wonderful perfumes such as honeydew melon, pineapple and cherry blossoms, but it also means the minerality in the finish is more pronounced. However there are some notable versions of Soave that are aged in wood (even a few in barriques) that are wonderful wines; one of the best is the Ca’Rugate “Monte Alto.”

Here is a short list of several of the finest Soave I tried (and that are available in the United States):

  • Filippi Monteseroni 2008
  • Coffele “Alzari” 2009
  • La Cappuccina “San Brizio” 2008
  • Gini “Contrada Selvarenza” 2008 (a brilliant wine!)
  • Agostino Vicentini “Il Casale” 2009
  • Ca’ Rugate “Monte Alto” 2009
  • Battistelle “Roccolo del Durlo”
  • Cantina del Castello “Carniga” 2008
  • Cantina di Soave Rocca Sveva 2010

I also tasted the 2009 “Castelcerino” bottling from Cantina di Soave, a lovely wine that is not imported into the United States at present, but may be one day.

Finally, I can’t write about Soave without mentioning Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region (and one of the best in Italy), produced solely from Garganega grapes that have been dried for several months before fermentation. These wines are redolent of apricot and honey flavors and often have a light nuttiness to them. Some are medium-sweet and a bit lush, while others are lighter and actually only lightly sweet of off-dry. Recioto di Soave is liquid gold – tantalizing, delicious and sensual and I love every version. The best on this trip were from Fattori, Coffele, Ca’Rugate, Corte Adami, Monte Tondo and Agostino Vicentini. Try these lovely dessert wines on their own at the end of a meal or pair them with an almond tart or apricot torte.

June 22, 2011 at 9:56 am 4 comments

Surprising Italian Whites that age

We’re quite familiar with the aging potential of the finest Italian red wines. Any discussion about Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco and Taurasi inevitably deals with how long these wines will age; 15-25 years is not uncommon, especially for the best products from superior vintages, while a few of these wines drink well some 35-40 years after the vintage date.

While these wines are quite special, the truth is that there are many relatively common Italian reds that age well, be they Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti Classico or Lagrein, to name only a few. Here the aging potential is more in the 5-10 year range, though I’ve tasted a few special bottlings of Chianti Classico at 25 years of age that were in fine shape.

So red wines from Italy do age well, but what about the whites? Well, except for a few examples, there is little talk of this subject, as it seems that many writers and fans of Italian white wines put them in the “appealingly fresh” category, for consumption over 2-5 years after their vintage date. There certainly are a lot of Italian whites such as this (as there are with many whites from France, California, New Zealand, et al), but there are some examples that age much longer than five years and many of them are not very famous.

Baglio di Pianetto winery and vineyards (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I was reminded of this during my most recent visit to Sicily, where I stayed at Baglio di Pianetto, a lovely estate not far from Palermo in the northwestern reaches of the island. Like many Sicilian wine farms, red wines such as Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Merlot are specialties, but here the whites are also quite notable. One of the finest and most intriguing from this estate is a bottling known as Ficiligno (named for a local stone found in some of the estate vineyards), a blend of Insolia and Viognier. This is an aromatic white that is aged solely in steel tanks to preserve its appealing perfumes of honeydew melon, lilacs and quince. It has a nice richness, while maintaining a lightness on the palate and a refreshing finish.

The first thing I thought about this wine (after how delightful and delicious it was) was that this a wine to be enjoyed with food over the next 2-3 years. Then my dining companion, Alberto Burrato, the CEO of the winery, opened up the 2003 bottling and my mind was opened to new possibilities for this wine. The color was what I expected for a seven year old white (deep yellow), but the wine still had a good freshness and was very enjoyable with our meal. This was especially impressive, as 2003 was a torridly hot year that resulted in wines with less than normal acidity.

It just so happened that I also had an older bottle of white wine from Baglio di Pianetto at my apartment in Chicago. This was the 2004 Viognier (labeled as Piana di Ginolfo). Now Viognier is not that common in Sicily and the version this producer makes is very appealing with honeysuckle, pear and pineapple aromas, is medium-bodied and has a lovely texture. Having tasted a few vintages of each wine, I’d say from the same year that the Ginolfo Viognier has a bit more aging potential than the Ficiligno.

However, I thought I may have waited too long, as this style of Viognier rewards consumption within a few years of the vintage. So when I opened the wine a few weeks ago, some six-plus years after it was made, I wondered it if would still show some life, especially as I hadn’t stored this wine in my cool cellar, but instead took it from a cardboard box in my living room.

I needn’t have worried, as the wine was in wonderful shape! First I was pleasantly surprised by the light yellow color – the wine looked as though it were two years old, not six. My notes for this wine list dried pear, banana peel and dried yellow flowers for the aromatics with a generous mid-palate and a nicely balanced finish with good acidity and a hint of almond. The wine was still in very good shape and was a delight with my meal that night (Oriental cuisine). The 2009 version of this wine (now labeled simply as Ginolfo) has just been released; having just tasted the wine (from an outstanding growing season) and now after my experience with the 2004, I’d guess this wine has at least seven years of life ahead of it and perhaps along as a decade. Who would think an Italian Viognier could drink so well for so long?

Leonildo Pieropan (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


There are dozens, if not hundreds of examples of other everyday Italian white wines that age beautifully. Take the Soaves from Pieropan, for example. Leonildo Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave Classico each year – La Rocca and Calvarino – that are truly special and are meant to be enjoyed later than sooner. I recall with great pleasure a bottle of 1989 Calvarino I tried with Leonildo and his wife at their winery in the town of Soave in 2005. Here was a sixteen-year old Soave in superb shape, one with excellent freshness as well as a distinct streak of minerality; it was one of the most memorable whites wines I have ever tasted.

But while the two cru bottlings from Pieropan tend to age well, even the simple Soave Classico from this producer offers excellent character far beyond the 2-3 years you might expect. A few weeks ago, I tasted the 2005 normale Soave Classico and was impressed with the youthfulness of this wine as well as its complexity. Not bad for a wine that costs $16 a bottle (I think even less when it was released)!

Of course, there are some marvelous white wines from Campania, Alto Adige and especially Friuli that have the stuffing and structure to age for 10-15 years. Many of these wines (such as Terre Alte from Livio Felluga and Braide Alte from Livon) are quite famous and given their notoriety, their prices are justifiably precious. But how nice to find whites wines from several corners of Italy that sell for less than $20 and offer pleasure for five to seven years.

Cellaring a wine isn’t always about tannins; acidity and overall balance have a lot to do with a wine being able to drink well for many years. So keep an eye out for Italian white wines the next time you think about ordering a slightly older bottling – it just may be perfect for your meal!

April 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm 6 comments

A Stunning Garganega

Garganega is the grape of Soave and gives to that wine its body, acidity and structure and well as wonderful aromatics of honeydew melon, pear and yellow flowers. While many examples of Soave are steel aged, some vintners age their wines in oak casks, yet most of these wines have relatively similar profiles that emphasize the brightness of the Garganega grape.

I just tasted a wine made entirely from the Garganega grape that turns everything you thought you knew about the variety and its resulting wines on its head. It’s from a artisan producer named Dama del Rovere, managed by Massimo Prà. Located in the hamlet of Brogoligo di Monteforte d’Alpone in the eastern reaches of the Soave Classico zone, the winery was established by Prà in 2003.

Prà works only with the Garganega grape and produces sparkling Durello from the hills near Soave along with a traditional Soave Classico, named “Tremenalto”. The 2009 is the current release and it is nicely balanced with fresh melon and pear perfumes backed by lively acidity and good depth of fruit. It is a typical Soave and a fine example of the quality of this zone.

But it is the 100% Garganega bottling he calls “Spinaje” in which Prà really displays a uniqueness rarely seen with the variety. The 2006 is the current bottling and it is identified as an IGT Veneto Bianco, as this is not anything like the Soave Classico he produces. The grapes are from vineyards in Monteforte d’Alpone, ranging from 10 to 76 years of age; after manual harvest, Prà lets the grapes dry naturally in the appassimento manner for several months; this is the same drying process as is used for Amarone as well as the sweet Recioto di Valpolicella and Recioto di Soave.

The wine is then partially fermented in various sizes of French oak for approximately twelve months and is then bottled. The result is something truly special, which you note with one glance at its color, a brilliant orange/amber. Not knowing anything about this wine before I tried it a few nights ago, I thought that given this was a wine from the 2006 vintage, I must have received a flawed bottle, given its deep color. Boy was I wrong!

The wine features aromas of Bosc pear, dried honey, a hint of pineapple and wheat germ (!). Medium-full, the wine has a dry, clean finish with very good persistence, pure fruit flavors, good acidity and notes of sweet brown spice. What I love most about this wine is its remarkable freshness; many white wines that have undergone appassimento often have a dried, slightly oxidized character to them, almost like an older sherry. Not so with this wine, which tastes much younger than its age. I expect this wine to drink well for another 3-5 years, perhaps longer.

Dama del Rovere is one of thirteen producers of Soave that has joined together in an organization called Vignaioli del Soave, whose stated goal is to “restore the dignity” of Soave to consumers. Other producers include such renowned estates such as Pieropan, Inama and Ca’ Rugate; on the website, you can learn more about this organization in general as well as each specific producer. While the “Spinaje” from Dama Del Rovere may not technically be a Soave Classico, it shares the same base material. It’s how Massimo Prà used the Garganega grape to fashion such a remarkable wine that is the story here; a new wine from an ancient variety.

December 1, 2010 at 1:08 am 5 comments

tom hyland

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