Some might say that the idea of a Soave Masterclass is an oxymoron because how could such a bland Italian dry white wine such as Soave be worthy of a Masterclass? After all, hadn’t the American guru Robert. Parker Jr, admittedly some two decades ago, condemned it as little more than industrial water? I might even had thought the same myself, but then I decided to attend the Soave Revealed tasting at 67 Pall Mall in London this Spring to see if my tastebuds would confirm or confound my prejudices.
The facts and figures in the introduction to Soave by the Soave Consorzio and Sarah Abbott MW did little to dissuade me. I learnt however that Soave is roughly the size of Chablis, that its 3,000 growers produce 55.5 million bottles of wine annually and that a minimum of 70% of the local Garganega grape is required in a blend which can also include Trebbiano di Soave. It wasn’t exactly promising to hear that 15 tonnes to the hectare is legal for Soave DOC, 14 tons for Soave Classico, but at least there’s a more measured 10 tonnes for Soave Superiore DOCG.
It became more interesting when we were shown the viticultural map of Soave, shaped like a fat reverse L, in which the soils of the eastern part are largely composed of chalky material while those in the West are mostly basalt and calcareous rocks, split down the middle by a lower-lying alluvial streak composed of calcareous soils. With no fewer than 47 different zones of varying size and altitude, I was beginning to get an understanding of the geographical complexities of the region.
Of course geographical complexity doesn’t necessarily translate into complexity in the wine, but I’m not sure that complexity was the first thing that struck me when we came to the eye-opening tasting of the 13 wines in the Masterclass, so much as quality, variations of character and ageability. What soon became clear was that Soave doesn’t have to be bland and when it comes to what they like to call the mid-premium to premium categories, there are many variations in style according to origin, viticultural practices and the use of either guyot or Venetian pergola and of course the winemaking, and with it, the use, or not of oak.
Is it possible then to sum up what Soave tastes like? Yes and no. I suspect that there are still many more vapid Soaves on the market than interesting ones thank to the dictates of volume. But what we were shown were whites whose producers were clearly making an effort through lower yields and adept crafting in the cellar to make wines of quality and interest. Floral and spicy aromas infused the best of them, concentration of fruit creating mouthfilling textural richness of peach, apricot and similarly juicy textures and flavours, with acidity bringing balancing freshness, sometimes with a slight nutty, almondy, even bitter almond hint.
To an extent then, Soave Revealed did succeed in confounding at least some of my earlier prejudices. It was a little disappointing that for some reason two of my favourite producers, Pieropan and Inama, were absent. On the other hand, their absence served to show that there are at least a handful of other Soave producers, mainly at Superiore and Classico level, making a serious fist of creating a distinctive product with genuine flair, flavour and character.
Here briefly then, is a note on each of the wines (for stockists and prices please check wine-searcher.com):
2016 Soave Classico DOC Coffele, Ca’ Visco, Castelcerino.
75% Garganega, 24% Trebbiano di Soave. 13% abv.
Citrusy freshness, apple and pear, youthful peardroppy fruit quality with refreshing citrusy finish. 87
2016 Soave DOC, Corte Canella, La Vero., Lavagno.
90% Garganega, 10% Trebbiano di Soave. 13.5% abv.
A feeling of vanilla if from oak, but the wine is unoaked, so perhaps from its small dried grape component, juicy texture, clean, fresh acidity. 88
2015 Soave DOC, Franchetto, Recorbian, Terrossa, Roncà.
100% Garganega. 12.5% abv.
Distinctly peachy in aroma, a traditional feel to it, quite concentrated and juicy with good body, and texture, and tropical pink grapefruity notes. 88
2015 Soave Superiore Vicenti Agostino DOCG, Il Casale, San Zeno di Colognola ai Colli.
100% Garganega. 13.1% abv.
A spicy fresh floral fragrance, sweet pea notes, nicely textured fruit with cinnamon spice background, classic, refreshing finish with typical touch of bitter almond. 88
2015 Soave Classico DOC, Suavia, Monte Carbonare, Fittà.
100% Garganega. 13% abv.
Fresh floral fragrance with a touch of spiciness, well-balanced, juicy-textured ripe peach, herbal undertones, clean dry finish. 89
2015 Soave Classico DOC, Rocca Sveva, Castelcerino.
80% Garganega, 20% Trebbiano di Soave. 13% abv.
Attractive fresh floral scents, textured apple and quince-like fruit, nicely balanced, clean, refreshing, spicy and dry finish. 88
2014 Soave Classico DOC, Balestri Valda, Vigneto Sengialta, Campagnola. 70% Garganega. 30% Trebbiano di Soave. 13% abv.
Distinctive nose, almost a touch for white chocolate, some Semillon-like waxiness, oaked but not oaky, nicely textured dry finish. 89
2014 Soave Classico DOC, Gianni Tessari, Pigno
100% Garganega. 12% abv.
Intensely fragrant, evident hint of oak on the nose, ripe, exotic concentrated stonefruit flavours balanced by well-judged nutty, grapefruit-citrusy freshness on the finish. 90
2014 Soave Classico DOC, Carniga, Azienda Cantina del Castello
80% Garganega, 20% Trebbiano di Soave. 13.5%.
Exotic apricot feel to the aromas and opulent apricot fruit with a honeyed note behind it, rich and full-bodied peachy flavours, an acquired taste but fine fruit quality. 90
2014 Soave Superiore DOCG, Runcata, Dal Cero, Tenuta di Corte Giacobbe, Monte Crocetta.
100% Garganega. 13% abv.
Distinctive aromas, floral, apricot notes, rich, full-bodied concentrated peachy ripe fruit, intense, good dry refreshing finish with mouthwatering acidity. 90
2015 Soave Superiore DOC, Motto Piane, Fattori.
100% Garganega. 14% abv.
Spicy fresh and floral scents, textured apricot richness on the palate supported by refreshing herby notes and crisp acidity and though powerful, delicately balanced. 90
2008 Soave Classico DOC, Casette Foscarin, Montetondo.
90% Garganega, 10% Trebbiano di Soave. 13% abv.
Showing the yellow gold colours of evolution after almost 10 years, this is remarkably fresh for its age, a hint of oak rounding down the textured concentrated nectariney quality which finishes on a honeyed but dry note. 91
2006 Gini, Soave Classico DOC, La Froscà, Monte Froscà.
100% Garganega. 13%.
Golden, mature, showing an oxidative whiff of baked apple and barley sugar, this is intense and concentrated (but Sarah revealed that the morning’s bottle had been much fresher, so no mark given here).
(Pic credits to decanter.com, lifeinitaly.com, pinterest and touristbee.com)