By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
It is often difficult keeping up with Italian wine growing regions even for those of us who work at it. So, it isn’t surprising that Soave – a Veneto region in northeast Italy – has gone unnoticed over the years. There are few times that have been memorable, mostly because the wine is often light and uninspiring.
But a recent reunion with several wines from Soave has revealed a number of producers are attempting to distance themselves from bulk producers and make wines that stand out.
Made mostly from gargenega grapes, Soave had undergone many changes since its sales peaked in the 1970s when bulk producers like Bolla dominated the U.S. market. Light-bodied and low in alcohol, its sales waned when Italy’s pinot grigio grew in popularity in the late 20th century.
What we witnessed in our tasting was a wide variety of styles, although most soave still has its telltale almond notes. The wines can range from having crisp acidty to over-concentrated creaminess. Some are even fermented in oak. Producers like Pieropan have raised the bar with its crisp, balanced wines that are better with food.
Although it is often compared to chardonnay, today’s soave reminds us more of pinot grigio with its peach, citrus and honey flavors. The difference – besides Soave being a region and pinot grigio being a grape variety – is that soave seems have become more complex than pinot grigio and there is a bitter almond flavor that is unique to the region. And here’s the good news: soave is often below $15.
Here are some examples we recently tasted:
- Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico 2014 ($14). Citrus flavors and herbs dominate this lush Soave. There is a nice mineral thread to add to its dimension.
- Cantina di Soave Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2014 ($17). Generous apple aromas and almond notes with good acidity and finish.
- Pieropan Soave Classico DOC 2014 ($20). A blend of mostly garganega and trebbiano di soave grapes, this dreamy soave has a creamy texture and layered flavors of citrus, apricot and fig.
- Sandro de Bruno Monte San Piero Soave Superiore DOCG 2011 ($16). Fermented in big oak barrels, this version is more full bodied with lush tropical fruit flavors and a hint of mineral.
- Cantina di Soave Re Midas Soave 2014 ($12). Fruity and lush, this light-bodied, delicious soave is a great aperitif or a wine to complement lightly seasoned fish.
CHIANTI: SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE
Chianti Classico celebrated its 300th anniversary this year. It was on Sept. 24, 1716 that Cosino III de’Medici, Gran Duke of Tuscany, ratified the boundaries of the world’s first appellation. The area was later identified as “Chianti Classico” to distinguish it from neighboring regions that produce simpler wines.
Not until the 1830s were the primary grape varieties – sangiovese, canaiolo and malvasia – put into a formula for Chianti Classico. Trebbiano Toscano — a white grape variety like malvasia – was added later, but many saw this as the cause of chianti’s slow descent. In 2006, the white grape varieties were banned and 80 percent of Chianti Classico had to be sangiovese.
American consumers have been enamored by chianti ever since it was introduced in those straw-covered fiascos. However, today’s chianti is more refined and balanced, thanks to these reforms. Its natural acidity and fruit-forward personality remain good matches to Italian fare.
One of the most reputable producers whose wines are readily available is Antinori. Here are tasting notes from several we have recently tasted:
- Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 ($35). Big-time raspberries and a dash of cloves highlights this wonderfully lush wine.
- Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico 2010 ($60). This Grand Selezione, made entirely from sangiovese, is an extraordinary chianti — as one would expect from this producer. Rich, red fruit flavors with some spice and fine tannins.
- Antinori Peppoli 2014 ($28). Merlot and syrah make up 10 percent of this largely sangiovese wine. Very aromatic with cherry and raspberry notes. This has been one of our favorite chiantis year after year.
- Zena Crown Vineyard “Conifer” Pinot Noir 2013 ($75). This Willamette Valley vineyard has been sourcing grapes for such distinguished vineyards as Beaux Freres, Soter and Penner-Ash. But now, legendary winemaker Tony Rynders (Domaine Serene) has teamed up with Shane Moore to craft a spectacular pinot noir under a new label. Along with its pricey sibling, the Slope ($100), these wines show off Oregon’s best new arrivals. This is Jackson Family Wine’s first foray into Oregon.
- Bodega Argento Pinot Grigio 2013 ($13). It’s not too late to enjoy the warm-weather relief that comes from pinot grigio. This one from the Uco Valley of Chile is vibrant with crisp acidity, refreshing herbal and pear, peach flavors with a hint of mineral.
- Gloria Ferrer Estate Chardonnay 2014 ($25). Known primarily for its sparkling wine, this Carneros producer makes an excellent, full-body chardonnay that could command a higher price. With just a kiss of oak, it reveals generous peach aromas, apple flavors and a soft mid-palate texture but a crisp finish.