Soave Classico Wine: Italy’s Answer to Perfectly Pairable White Wines

Soave Castle
Soave Castle

Hailing from the Veneto region in Italy’s northeast, Soave (pronounced as “swah-vay”)  is a highly acclaimed and ancient dry white wine. Soave is a medieval village with a magnificent 10th century castle situated on the top hill eastside of the town. It’s a place where both DOC and DOCG designations coexist, further sub-dividing the wine from Superiore into general Soave, Classico, and cru.

Soave burst with popularity in the US market in the middle of the 20th century. Italian wines became in huge demand following the end of WWII. It would go on to even upstage Chianti, which was huge in the 1970s. Pinot Grigio bested soave’s run though at the end of the 20th century. In the past 20 years, great efforts have been made to raise the quality and reputation of Soave. Several producers, mostly from the historic Classico area, have taken their wines to a superior level of distinction. They have identified cru sites, experimented with oak and released single-vineyard bottling’s. All of these elements have contributed to the production of dynamic wines with character and expression.

During much of its production throughout history, Soave was created with a medium-bodied style, similar to Chardonnay yet with a distinctive twinge of bitter almonds. Then as the turn toward Pinot Grigio began, it shape-shifted yet again to embody those lighter, crisper styles. Eventually, at the start of the 21st century, Soave decided to love itself for what it was, reflecting its own unique flavor profile through the Garganega grape. Despite these changes and battling with intense competition, it still manages to impress and is very much a white wine you should be serving your dinner guests for its impeccable fluidity in complementing just about everything.

Garganega – The Varietal of Choice for Soave

Among the sloping vineyards, the Garganega varietal dominates though Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave are allowed in a variance of percentages. The reason Garganega is the favored darling of the varietals here is that it can withstand the many viticulture hazards brought on by the rising mists coming up from the Po Valley during autumn. Garganega ripens later and has a thick skin, allowing it to resist the mist. This prevents it from molding and turning foul.

Garganega Vines
Garganega Vines

With a focus only on white wine in the Soave region, the requirements by the DOC insist that a minimum of it must be from the Garganega grape. The remaining 30% can be composed of Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio/Turbiana) and/or Chardonnay. Top-quality producers, however, tend to use a higher percentage of Garganega and many of the best wines are 100% varietal.

Soave vs. Classico vs. Cru

The dramatic change in topography can be divided into two halves. The western half includes steep limestone-based hills that run from north to south up to the town od Soave. The eastern half  is formed by low volcanic hills that run from north to south up to the town of Monteforte d’Alpone. These volcanic soils are rich in minerals and are peppered with outcrops of basalt and limestone. Most of the soil is comprised of decomposed basalt which transform into the dark clay-loams so typical to this area of Soave. Both halves have a flat alluvial plain in their southern sections.

Gini Verticle 1999-2013
Gini Verticle 1999-2013

The wines of Soave show specific flavor and aromatic profiles that vary based on the type of soil where the vines are grown. The eastern half produce more structure, floral and spicy wines with ripe fruit and an almond note while the western half tend to produce wines with more finesse and characterized with aromas of white flowers and green apple.

The Soave region can be further broken down, which makes it a bit confusing for consumers. The Italians use the term “Classico” to denote an old, historic region. Typically, this is used to denote things that come from the Ancient Roman times, a place revered in history for producing the best wines in the region. These wines show depth and concentration and are chartered with steely acidity, rich texture and intense floral aromas combined with citrus and almond notes. They also can be long lived.

Monte Tondo
Monte Tondo

And now for the cru. When the region began creating Soave Superiore DOCG, it began mapping the vineyards of Soave to highlight the best ones in the lot. It was an attempt to refine the image of Soave, putting it back on the top shelf. They pulled a page from the French system, denoting 59 vineyards into the cru system.

In the Soave though, this system is rather brilliant for the volcanic soil composition varies from place to place in the region, as too does the exposure of these vineyards. It’s a fascinating discovery for some of these wines come out tasting racy and bold from those black, lava-encrusted soils while others of them soak up minerals from the calcium-primed white soils, making them racy and sleek. Cru bottles are typically required to age two or three years in the bottle to achieve their optimum flavor.

Enjoying Soave Wines

Wines from the Soave region, particularly from the Classico denotation are well known for having flavors of melon and orange zest. They also age wonderfully well and are relatively inexpensive to stock your home wine rack with.

It features a dry, light-body style that feels similar to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio though with a smoother, richer feel. Finding the right one is encouraged as falling for a cheaper version can land you a green and bitter almond finish that leaves an unpleasantness on the palate.

Properly aged, the Soave wines have some surprisingly complex and intense flavors with honey, marmalade, preserved lemon, and fennel seed for a sublime sipping experience. As mentioned, Soave is one of the most versatile food wines, pairing easily with just about anything. However, it truly shines when you pair it with Italian foods, especially seafoods. Tender clams in a soft broth with gnocchi, linguini flavored with squid ink, and sea scallops and risotto is truly the most optimal pairings you can find.

Not having Italian food? It’s fantastic to just drink casually and you can serve it with salads, cheeses, seafood like tuna, crab, fried sardines to game fowl and pork. It really depends on the style. Soave also pairs well with moderately spiced asian foods.

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