Friday, May 21, 2021

Savoring Soave

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is the regulated system of Italian wine laws.

Roberto Anselmi has long had two great passions: driving in a fast car as though his hair was on fire and changing the face of Soave wine.

That was my impression of Anselmo back in the day when I first visited him at his winery in the Veneto village of Monteforte d'Alpone.  It was a time when Soave was undergoing a quiet revolution about quality and image. Traditionalists, represented by large wine companies, like Bolla and the Soave Consortium, wanted Soave to be made the way it always had.  Modernists, led by Anselmi, were arguing for change. 

The way Anselmi saw it, Soave, the popular white Veneto wine, was average and boring and in need of updating.  Anselmi claimed there was too much average Soave in the market, due to over production of the primary grape, Garganega, especially on the valley floor.  In the 1990s, Soave produced 6 million cases annually, mainly from large wine companies and cooperatives.

Anselmi -
Garganega vines in San Vincenzo vineyard

Anselmi also was pushing to update vineyard trellising from the traditional pergola to more modern systems.  And he would tell anyone who would listen that the Soave Consortium may be satisfied with wine's status quo, but he wasn't.

So, starting with the 1999 vintage, Roberto Anselmi left DOC Soave, declassifying his wines.  That meant he could no longer call Anselmi wines by the Soave name and he must use the more general IGT designation.  In the highly regulated world of Italian wine, such a move could prove fatal.

Digression -- By law, DOC Soave is 70% Garganega, with 30% Trebbiano di Soave or Chardonnay,  Pinot Bianco and/or Sauvignon Blanc.  IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created by law in 1992 and is the Italian equivalent of the French Vin de Pays, or a wine typical of its geographic area.

"Pazzo!" cried some Soave producers who thought Anselmi was crazy for leaving the consortium. The criticism just made Anselmi more determined to prove his point that Garganega showed more character when grown in the hills instead of the valley floor. 

Rather than make nondescript white wine called Soave, quality oriented producers, such as Anselmi, Pieropan and Gini, concentrated on grapes from hillside vineyards, in the eastern part of the classico zone where the soils are composed of volcanic rock.  These wines are flowery and herbal supported by bracing acidity and a honeyed texture with age. 

But official Soave still had the problem of excessive yields pulling the reputation of Soave down, so something had to be done.  A DOCG was added to Soave In 2002, in hopes that it would solve the problem, but instead the DOCG was not limited to hillside vineyards. So a general Superiore category was added, further confusing the situation.  

Today, wine consumers scanning Soave labels have to sort through four official denominations: Soave Classico DOC; Soave Colli Scaligeri, for hillside vineyards outside the Classico zone; Soave DOC, mainly the plains; and Soave Superiore  DOCG. 

Thus, it's important to know what you are buying with Soave. Bolla Soave sells for $12, Pieropan Classico goes for $17.  Anselmi's IGT Veneto wines include San Vicenzo, $20, Capitel Foscarino, $25 and Capitel Croce, $28.   

Garganega grapes in a Soave drying room

If sweet wines suit your palate, look Recioto di Soave, made from dried Garganega grapes by the appassimento process.  Many years ago, grapes would be dried outdoors on straw mats.  Today, recioto is carried out in drying rooms hanging on racks or on shallow trays.  The drying process reduces the water in the grapes, concentrating the sugars.  Thus, fermentations are longer, raising alcohol. The minimum required alcohol for recioto is 14%. 

True Soave is one of Italy's best white wines. So, don't let the label mumble-jumble stop you from trying DOC Soave or Anselmi IGT Veneto wines.

Next blog: Sierra Foothills

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