Just north of the historic city of Verona in North East Italy, the volcanic soils of Soave are remerging as highly desirable wine-making terroir. As one of Italy’s most iconic white wines, there are few enthusiasts that have not come across these delicate, floral wines before. Yet far less are familiar with Soave’s new and improved authentic personality, produced from single vineyards, distinctive soils and with greater understanding of the area’s key grape variety - Garganega. These small production, artisan wines show delicious fruit that ranges from citrus to the succulently exotic alongside mouth smacking freshness and a mineral complexity rarely achieved elsewhere. Not only can these wines be stunning in youth, they also demonstrate the ability to age with intrigue.
The past few decades have been difficult for the appellation. A flood of insipid, generally poor wines gradually eroded its domestic and international appeal to inflict years worth of damage on Soave’s reputation. In many ways the stereotype of cheap, flabby and tasteless wines remains the same, but a vibrant scene of boutique producers and a creative, hardworking consorzio is showing people that Soave has turned a corner and now represents some of the best value white wine-making in Italy.
The area’s great wines of the past were produced in the hills that extend and fan out in an easterly direction from the commune of Soave. Heading due East the first peak is Monte Ronchetta, followed by Monte Fresca and then Monte Riondo. Heading South East (roughly) we reach Monte Tondo and Monte Zoppega. To the North, the village of Castel Cerino marks the end of the ‘Classico’ area, while to the north east the sub zone continues beyond the village of Brognoligo in a sweeping ridge which ends at the Torrente Alpone river.
Within this sprawling zone of hillsides the soil is generally characterised as either volcanic or limestone dominant. The volcanic basalt soils were formed by successive cycles of eruptions, first under water and then as the sea level changed above the surface. Conversely, the limestone soils can be traced back to the ancient sea beds that have left behind remnants of sediments rich in calcium carbonate.
Inama were one of the first to remind people what terroir driven Soave could taste like. The company’s old Monte Foscarino site purchased by Stefano Inama’s father Giuseppe in 1965, provided the inspiration for a single vineyard Soave that sought to set a new benchmark of quality in the area. More followed.
In recent years steps have been taken to try to improve the quality of Soave’s wines. Many producers have dialed back their use of Trebbiano di Soave in favour of Garganega. The simple reason for this is that wine-makers have found that taming Garganega’s relentless vigour results in much better wines.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive success of Soave’s small family estates over the last ten years or so, Soave’s output is still more or less dominated by a handful of key co-operatives. Cantina di Soave is the most obvious reference, while Cantina di Monteforte are also highly visible. Each year they churn out an incredible amount of bottles, a scenario brought firmly into context by the fact that there are only 50 bottlers in appellation that covers 7000 hectares and just over 2800 farms.
Much of the production is labelled as Soave DOC - 30 million bottles in 2018. The best wines of Soave DOC originate from the ‘Classico’ area and are permitted to attach the term to the label. 2018’s ‘Classico’ production was around 12 million bottles.
There are two other product variations of Soave, Recioto di Soave, a sweet passito style wine yielding around 120,000 bottles per year and Soave Superiore representing around 650,000 per year. Soave Superiore was promoted to DOCG status In 2001 and now represents the pinnacle, in theory at least, of dry Soave production.
One of the most fascinating developments of the recent Soave revolution and one that is being hammered home by the ongoing Soave Stories marketing campaign, is the notion that it ages better than anyone could have imagined. Giulia Franchetto of Cantina Franchetto believes the key to aged Soave’s appeal is simple. “The combination of a more mature taste and the amazing freshness due to both acidity and minerality makes Soave so distinctive”. Giulia Caravaggi Stocchetti of Cantina del Castello elaborates that “It is important to note how many aged Soave still preserve the nice and appealing freshness of their younger counterparts.”
Although the youthful freshness of Soave is the defining characteristic, there are plenty in the DOC who attempt fuller style of winemaking. Tenuta Sant’Antonio craft their ‘Vecchie Vigne’ Soave with a six month stay in French tonneaux.