First published in The Irish Times, Saturday, October 5th, 2019
The imposing Castello di Scaligeri towers over the medieval walled town of Soave, whose narrow streets run down the mountainside on to the plain below. It is a beautiful and vibrant place, well worth a visit if you are in the area. The vineyards surrounding the town and stretching into the distance are used to make Soave, one of Italy’s best-known white wines.
There are two very different kinds of Soave, however. The grapes used to produce Soave Classico grow on the slopes beside the castle and high on the opposing hillsides. On the plains below you will find the vines used to produce simple Soave. There is a world of difference between the two. The top wines of Soave Classico stand comparison with the finest white wines of Italy and elsewhere. With a few exceptions, most basic Soave is at best a pleasant, simple, lightly fruity white wine.
Soave lies east of Verona, an hour or so from the shores of Lake Garda. In the late 20th century the area expanded to include many inferior vineyards. The primary grape here is Garganega, although others are permitted, including Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay. If allowed, Garganega can produce very large yields, which in turn lead to some very dilute, flavourless wines. During this period many producers also planted the high-volume but inferior Trebbiano Toscano.
For several decades one or two large companies and the enormous local co-operative exported large quantities of these insipid wines to the United States and northern Europe with great success. It didn’t do much for the image of Soave. Consumers moved on to more exciting, better-made wines from the New World. Happily, things are changing. There always was a small coterie of producers who remained focused on making high-quality wine; they have been joined by a group of younger, more ambitious growers.
Even though inexpensive Soave can be a little watery and lacking in flavour, frequently I find them inoffensive compared with other cheap wines. Tesco, Lidl and Aldi all have decent examples for between €5.99 and €10.
Good Soave Classico can be divided into two rough camps: crisp and zesty, or a richer and broader style. Either way, they should have an energy, a vibrant character that makes them very attractive. They are low in alcohol, and usually unoaked, and so make an ideal alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Cantine Pra (jnwine.com, €20.50), Inama and Gini are also worth seeking out. Soave is a great sipping wine, as well as being the perfect partner for all sorts of shellfish, seafood, salads and lighter creamy pasta dishes.
Soave Classico “Costeggiola” 2017, Guerrieri-Rizzardi
A very attractive, slightly richer style of Soave, with broad honey and apple fruits, brought to life by a fine vein of crisp mineral acidity. Try it with seared salmon or with scallops.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Soave Il Selese 2017, I Stefani
A vibrant crisp, dry Soave, with clean citrus and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own or with grilled white fish or lighter pasta dishes.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeeandwine.com
Soave Classico 2017, Suavia, Organic
Light and refreshing, with enticing floral aromas, and fresh, lightly textured pears, finishing bone dry. The perfect aperitif, or with all kinds of antipasti.
From Sweeneys, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie
Pieropan Soave Classico 2018
The Pieropan single-vineyard Calvarino is amazing, but this “basic” Soave Classico is a glorious, elegant wine with a lightly floral nose, intense lemon zest, pears, and almonds, finishing long and dry. Solo, with melon and prosciutto, or any plain shellfish dishes.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare, elywinebar.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Dublin 2, fallonandbyrne.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie; Kellys, Dublin 3, kellysofflicence.com; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; McHughs, Dublin 5, mchughs.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; stationtostationwine.ie; wineonline.ie