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An Italian White that Merits a Spot on your List

– by Terry and Julie Robards

There was a time a generation ago when Soave seemed to be the only Italian white wine on the American market, and the dominant brand was Bolla. In fact, many Americans thought “Soavebolla” was one word. Now, all that has changed.

Numerous Soaves are now available here, as was amply demonstrated in a tasting held recently in Manhattan by the Wine Media Guild, a group of journalists, at Felidia, one of the city’s leading Italian restaurants. We tasted some two dozen of this delicious wine, but not one of them was Bolla because, we were told, Bolla is now synonymous with quantity rather than quality.

Soave is third in volume among Italian imports behind Asti Spumante and Chianti, and there are about 150 Soave producers, not counting cooperatives, although the big co-ops accounts for 80 percent of volume, with some 2,500 growers belonging to them. The wine is made mostly from the garganega grape, with small percentages of chardonnay and trebbiano di Soave, grown in a dozen villages in Italys’s Veneto region, including the medieval walled village of Soave itself, lying in the northeastern sector of the Italian boot just a few miles east of Verona.

The area is characterized by gently rolling hills, and the better vineyards are on the hillsides, rather than in the valleys, as is true in most of the other superior European wine regions. Ancient castles, churches, bell towers and aristocratic villas are all part of the rich history and tradition of the area.

The region is certainly worth a visit, and one good way to do it is to follow the Soave Wine Road, roughly 30 miles long and passing through 13 wineries, showcasing not only the wines but also many historic landmarks, architectural attractions, museums, fine restaurants and the landscape of the Verona hillsides with their abundant olive and cherry trees. Travelers can enjoy artisan foods like Monte Veronese cheese, Vialone Nano rice, Veronese radicchio and chestnuts from San Mauro.

The long growing season and the vigor of the garganega grape can result in overly prolific production of grapes and insipid wines, so one of the major recent changes in the Soave zone has been the limiting of vineyard yields to improve quality. Freshness and a certain mineral quality make these crisp, clean wines excellent with a variety of foods, including mild fish, shellfish, poultry, vegetables and many pasta dishes.

Consumers should seek Soave Classico, the portion of the district that yields the best wines because of the volcanic soils that prevail there, with high percentages of iron and marine elements that result in sleeker, mineral-rich yet delicate wines meriting the so-called DOCG, or guarantee of quality. Note that many producers do not use the DOCG designation on their labels because, among other reasons, the DOCG rules ban the use of the screw caps that have become so popular in recent years.

The most remarkable aspect of our tasting was the across-the-board quality of the wines. No single wine could be identified as having superior quality over the others, and none could be called inferior either. All nicely complemented the luncheon served in the Felidia dining room, and all of the 50 or so tasters in attendance seemed to be impressed with the general quality of the wines.

Normally I would offer my tasting notes on each wine, but they were all so similar that the excersize would be highly repetitive, so I will merely list the wines and their prices (where prices could be found): Soave Vigna dello Stefano 2009 Le Albare ($14), Soave Classico 2009 Casarotto, Soave Classico Capitel Alto Canestrari ($14), Soave Classico I Cerceni 2009 Combrago, Soave Classico I Cerceni 2008 Combrago ($15), Soave Classico Rocca Sveva 2009 Cantina di Soave ($13), Soave Vigneto a Broia 2008 Roccolo Grassi, Soave Classico Clivus 2009 Cantina di Monteforte, Soave Superiore Monte San Piero 2008 Sandro de Bruno, Soave I Tarai 2008 Corte Moschina, Soave Motto Piane 2009 Fattori ($13), Soave Sereole 2007 Bertani ($12), Soave Sereole 2006 Bertani ($13), Soave Classico La Frosca 1990 Gini, Recioto di Soave Spumante 2008 Montetondo, Recioto di Soave Ardens 2008 Cantina del Castello.

In light of our motto: Honoring the Culture, Art, Food and Wine of Italy “Ars longa, vita brevis” ( Art is long, life is short).