Just west of Venice lies Soave - one impeccable and important Italian wine region. This famed wine area is no longer home to the bulk wines it was producing back in the 80s. Today, Soave is a region producing majestic wines, from easy-drinking (and stellar-priced) white wines to seductive sweet wines.
Let’s discover all the details about Soave wines!
Time to travel to the Veneto - the region home to Venice and its gondolas, Romeo and Juliet’s beloved Verona, and the stunning wine region of Soave. Soave is actually located right between Venice and Verona in northeastern Italy and the vineyards sit amidst lovely, green rolling hills.
The Soave area is named for the ancient town of Soave, known for its wine as far back as 150 A.D., during Roman times. Emperor Augustus loved the ‘retico wines,’ which historians soon discovered were probably the wines of Soave. Of course, Soave wasn’t known as Soave then. Some even believe that the name Soave came from Dante Alighieri himself during his exile in Verona. Don’t tell the Tuscans, though.
The Soave region itself spans much beyond the town of Soave. The wines are all produced within the Soave DOC, a denomination that spreads out beyond the confines of Soave the town. Within this region are smaller fractions - like Soave Classico DOC and Recioto di Soave DOCG, which we will dive into more detail below.
When it comes to Soave, Garganega reigns supreme. This white grape varietal has long lived in the Soave region - there are plenty of stories illustrating Soave wines as something to talk about. I mean, Roman emperors loved it - what more do we have to say?
In all seriousness, Garganega is a very important grape in Italian wine. It is one of the oldest grapes. And, it has quite a few biotypes (or ‘grape siblings’) around the Italian peninsula. Fun fact? Garganega is even a biotype of a Sicilian grape called Grecanico Dorato.
Diving back into Soave, Garganega makes up at least 70 percent of Soave DOC wines by law. In other words, Garganega defines the character of Soave wines. It is a grape with excellent acidity that can create interesting dry white wines and sweet wines.
What makes up the other 30 percent, you ask? There are two grapes allowed to make up 25% of this portion - Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay. Trebbiano di Soave is a local white grape varietal that is a clone of Verdicchio in the Marche region. Now, try not to get confused here - Trebbiano di Soave may have the same DNA as Verdicchio, but these two grapes each have their own character. Chardonnay - on the other hand - is not an Italian varietal. This grape is a stylistic choice by winemakers, although many do prefer to work with native varietals, as Chardonnay can often dominate the flavors of the blend.
The other 5% has a lot more flexibility. You can find Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, or even Riesling making up this percentage.
Breaking Down Soave Wines
Knowing the Soave denominations (and all their characteristics) will help you to navigate buying and drinking Soave wines. The best part is - there are lots of awesome small producers producing Soave, making quality more often than not a guarantee.
This denomination covers the Soave region as a whole. Here, you will find 14 different comuni or municipalities allowed to produce these wines. Such a large area means that the soil and overall terroir varies pretty widely, giving much versatility to the wines in this area.
Within the DOC there are smaller zones dedicated to specific kinds of Soave wine production. Soave Superiore DOCG is typically produced with grapes from the top crus, found on steep terraced slopes in the area with mineral-rich soil. In addition, there are other classifications with their history and unique terroir - two things to know that will define the Soave you sip.
Soave Classico DOC
The Classico area of Soave is an important one to know, of course, because the wines are wonderful to drink. More importantly, this area is definitive of the Soave region as it is the home of its ancient winemaking history. Located in the southeastern part of the Soave DOC around the towns of Soave and Monteforte D’Alpone, it was in this zone that the Romans had vineyards, producing the once famed, emperor-loving retico wines.
What’s just as fascinating about the Soave Classico DOC is its terroir. It's pretty diverse. Let's dive into it.
In the eastern hills of Soave Classico, you will find a rich volcanic terroir. You may be thinking - where’s the volcano? Well, we are talking about underwater volcanos millions of years ago that ultimately defined the soils of the Soave Classico area to this day. To get more wine nerdy, the volcanic soil here is a type of basalt, a kind of rock that results from the slow cooling of lava (rather than the ash of an active volcanic, like what you would find in the vineyards of Etna).
This volcanic soil creates wines with complexity. Many producers believe the volcanic soil is responsible for the cinnamon and almond-like notes in these wines.
While volcanic soil reigns supreme in the eastern hills of Soave Classico, the western hills are home to limestone soils. These shallow limestone soils are known for producing elegant wines with floral and citrus aromas. While the volcanic soils give boldness and structure to Soave wines, the limestone lends more softness and finesse.
Soave Classico’s didactic soils make it quite a versatile area. The wines can vary in character but are almost always mineral, persistent, and absolutely thirst-quenching.
Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC
This area is lesser known than Soave Classico, making it more of a secret to consumers. The Colli Scaligeri wines are produced in the southwestern hills and plains of the Soave DOC. Here, wines are a little less complex than Soave Classico, but still very delicious. You can find reliable and refreshing white wines from the Colli Scaligeri that are perfect for everyday sipping, or as an entry point to a party, at a price that’s quite unbeatable.
Recioto di Soave DOCG
Saving the oldest for last, Recioto di Soave is arguably the most historic of all Soave wines. It is indeed the most ancient, which comes as no surprise as sweet wines were fashionable centuries ago (when winemaking was more a necessity than a hobby, sort of.) References to Recioto di Soave date as far back as the 5th century A.D.
Today, Recioto is an emblem of the Soave area and the Veneto region as a whole. It is a customary and special sweet wine, the perfect way to finish a delicious meal.
So, what makes this sweet wine so spectacular besides its ancient history? It’s made from Garganega grapes (at least 70% like the dry wines of Soave,) dried traditionally - laid out on straw mats for months. Once enough moisture is lost, the best-quality dried grapes are chosen to make the wine. Then, these grapes are gently pressed to release the concentrated sweet juice and fermented. The wine is aged in wood and then in bottle for 1 to 6 months.
The result? A beautifully golden sweet wine whose character varies with age, but often has seductive notes of almond and vanilla. Recioto di Soave can age for decades and gains intriguing tertiary notes of toasted nuts, honey, citrus, and molasses.
Explore the Wines of the Veneto with Big Hammer
There is so much wine to love in Soave and the Veneto. White and red wine drinkers rejoice - our wine expert team at Big Hammer is here to make your wine-drinking needs easy as you explore another exciting Italian wine region, like Soave. Never hesitate to reach out to us with your wine questions!
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