Soave was the first Italian white wine to attain international recognition, and today it is Italy's best known white wine. That achievement, however, was gained under a cloud of public misunderstanding and internal squabbling.
Some say the misunderstanding and squabbling are the same problem. Soave producers disagree on the definition of Soave and what part of the DOC region makes "true" Soave. Thus, a handful of producers, led by Roberto Anselmi, has gone off on their own, while the bulk of the wineries continue under DOC Soave.
Anselmi, and his fellow objectors, believe that the best Soave comes from a hilly area near Verona. Rather then comply with what they see as unreasonable rules required by the official DOC, they have opted for the broader Veneto IGT. Established in 1992, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, roughly translates to "wines typical of the area," and is equivalent to the French Vin de Pays.
On the surface the disagreement may seem to the wine consumer as an internal problem. But anyone interested in Soave would make a better buying decision by knowing the positions of both sides.
Named for Suavia, an area near Verona, Soave might, arguably, be seen as the white equivalent of Chianti, since the annual output of both regions is close. Chianti produces the most wine in Italy, Soave is second.
Italian wine was first regulated in 1963, then updated in 1992, and controversy has dogged it ever since. Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) was modeled by the Italian government to mirror France's Appellation Controlee (AOC), while coming into compliance with EU regulations. And, like Chianti, Soave is a mass-produced wine that also has a "classico" level.
Soave was granted DOC status in 1968 and it took another 30 years before Recioto di Soave was elevated to DOCG in 1998 and then three more years for Soave Superiore to move up to DOCG in 2001. Bureaucracy moves slowly in Italy.
And bureaucracy seems to be behind the confusion with DOC Soave and DOCG Soave Superiore. In 1927, a classico zone was defined, an area where superior Soave is produced. Confusing matters, there are four official Soave DOC appellations: Soave Classico DOC, Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC, Soave Superiore DOCG and Soave DOC. All may officially appear on labels.
Then, with the rising interest in single vineyard wines, while hopefully boosting Soave's reputation, it was decided to subdivide the entire Soave zone into 47 subzones, wherein various single vineyards were identified.
But, across the board, high yields continued to affect the quality and reputation of Soave, with producers in the hills, where higher quality wines are made, complaining about being lumped in with quantity producers.
Garganega, a native grape of the Veneto region is, say its supporters, best on its own. Soave DOC, however, requires at least 70% Garganega, with up to 30% Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Most high-end producers prefer 100% Garganega.
On its own, and from the best vineyards, Garganega is redolent of lemons and almonds; and what could be more Italian than that?
The Sweeter Side of Soave
In Italian, ricioto, denotes a category of dried grape wines. For Soave, that means Ricoto di Soave, a sweet white wine made from dried grapes.
The word ricoto comes from the Italian for ear, or orecchio, and it's also the name of a small ear-shaped pasta. The wine connection comes from the original practice of selecting only the lobes or "ears" on a cluster of grapes to make the sweet wine. Today, most producers of Recioto di Soave use whole clusters of Garganega for recioto wines such as Anselmi I Capitelli.
Other recioto Italian wines include the red Recioto della Valpolicella and the highly prized Amarone. Like Valpolicella, Amarone is based mainly on Corvina. Rounding out the trio of Veneto sweet wines is Recioto di Gambellara, made mainly from the Garganega grape.
There are scores of Soave on the market. Here are a few to look for: Pieropan "Calvarino" Soave Classico, Bola, Anselmi Capitel Foscarino and Capitel Croce, Cantina Pra, Inama, Brognoligo, Gini. Most Soave is priced at about $20 to $25, with single vineyard wines like Capitel Croce, and Pieropan Recioto di Soave, close to $50.
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