It is no secret that the world of wine is vast and often confusing to navigate through. Wine is produced on nearly every continent, has thousands of varieties of grapes it can be made from, and can be labeled differently depending on its country of origin’s labeling laws.
Italy is one such country whose wines often cause a bit of confusion for consumers. One of my favorite Italian wines, Soave, is an example.
Soave is located in Veneto, a large growing region in Northern Italy and home to some of the country’s biggest producers. Even though there are 23 DOCs (designated winemaking areas) in the region, nearly 30% of Veneto’s classified wines come from Soave. Italy is a country that labels the majority of its wines by region, not varietal. Therefore, when you see Soave on the label, this is area the wine comes from.
The Italian government controls the winemaking practices in every region. Since its creation in 1968, Soave’s rules and requirements for production have been debated and changed so much that it has left many believing the region only produces generic bulk wines of low merit.
By law, the Garganega grape must compose 70% of the wine’s total blend. On its own, it is fleshy, with bright acidity. When allowed to ripen fully it can take on a richer flavor with notes of melon and pear. In notable bottlings, the Garganega is blended with Trebbiano di Soave. In the more mass-produced examples, however, a lesser variety of Trebbiano is used in conjunction with Chardonnay and other varieties used as “fillers.”
The negativity and confusion over the quality and winemaking guidelines has become so profound that some of Soave’s top producers have opted out of using the name on their labels. Roberto Anselmi, one of Northern Italy’s top producers, dropped the Soave designation from his wines in 1999 opting instead to use the lesser designation of IGT. He continues to use Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave and still produces some of the region’s top wines.
Efforts have been made by the Italian DOC committee to strengthen the wines of Soave, including designating Soave Superior as a DOCG. Think of this as a special designated winemaking region, producing wines of higher merit than the DOC. Many argue, however, that these changes have done little to improve the image of the region or the quality of the mass-produced wines.
Despite what the mass producers have done for its reputation, Soave does produce some serious wines worth seeking out. I am particularly fond of Anselmi and La Cappuccina, and highly recommend their wines to anyone wanting to discover what “real Soave” tastes like. The finest bottlings are made from Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave, and those with the Superior designation have met higher standards of winemaking and aging requirements.
If you are a fan of Pinot Grigio or lightly oaked white wines, I think you will really enjoy Soave.
Ask your local ABC’s wine guru for a recommendation. If you find yourself navigating on your own, look for Soave Superior on the label. And if you’re lucky enough to find a producer who lists the grape varieties used, look for higher percentages of Garganega (80% or more) and the use of Trebbiano di Soave.
Cheers and thanks for reading!
Dave Malone, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinedavem