Saturday, February 28, 2009

Two Sides of Soave

Driving into the Veneto from the west on the A4 Autostrada, passing the exits for Verona en route to the turnoff for Soave, it’s not the beauty of the landscape that draws your eye. Rather, it is the massive factory complex belonging to Bolla that dominates the vista. Given the industrial wines being churned out of the region – all too often based on overcropped, dilute fruit – that view serves as a stark symbol of the fact that Soave remains a widely misunderstood wine. Even today, a couple of decades after the company’s huge marketing blasts of the 70s and 80s, the names Soave and Bolla remain inseparable in the minds of many.

When farmed well and cropped to lower yields, though, Garganega, the primary grape of Soave (it must constitute at least 70% of the blend in Soave per DOC regulations), is capable of expressing its inherent nobility. It’s also capable of turning out quite good and, more importantly, very food friendly wines. It’s also a vine, much like Chardonnay for comparison’s sake, that’s quite malleable in a winemaker’s hands.

Soave Classico “Monte de Toni,” i Stefanini 2006
$16. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domenico Selections, New York, NY.
First things first – a little disclosure: this bottle came my way as a sample from my friend, the man behind Mondosapore and burgeoning importer of Italian wines, Terence Hughes. i Stefanini was one of the first producers to sign-on with Terry’s new company, Domenico Selections. Thanks T. Now, on to the wine….

At first, I found the aromas and texture of “Monte de Toni” a bit off-putting. Dense, lactic scents and waxy mouthfeel both suggested a heavy hand in the winery. Indeed, a look at the winery’s website comfirms that the wine is enzymatically clarified, goes through malolactic fermentation and rests on its lees until bottling in the spring following harvest. Nothing terribly aggressive there… the end result is a wine of low-medium acidity and medium body. With a little time in the glass, it actually gains lightness (I know that sounds contradictory but you’ll have to trust me) and reveals the typical Soave signature of bitter almonds with slightly vegetal accents. Baked apple and dried apricot fruit follow with that unmistakable lacing of blanched almonds shining through again on the finish.

Deterred as I may have been at first sip, in the end I had a hard time putting down my glass. And that’s a much more ringing endorsement than any technical specification can provide.

Soave Classico “Ronchetto,” Umberto Portinari 2005
$15. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Umberto Portinari’s Soave “Ronchetto” shows a crisper, more mineral expression of Soave. I have no scheda tecnica for this, but at a year older than i Stefanini’s Soave, it’s still paler in color and has retained a livelier acid profile, both of which suggest a more reductive wine making regime, certainly in steel and perhaps with a partial suppression of the malolactic. Not nearly as richly flavored either, it’s one of the highest acid examples of Soave that hasn’t achieved its acidity at the expense of ripeness and character. White pepper and lemon zest dominate aromatically, while the palate delivers seashell minerality, lemony fruit and, again, a twist of bitter almond on the finish, all on a slightly angular texture. Very food-friendly, it would be a perfect foil to fresh water fish or vegetable risotto, even if a bit less quaffable than i Stefanini’s “Monte de Toni.”


Joseph said...

Having discussed some of the minutiae of Soave with Duffer while he was composing this fine piece, I'm happy to say that I learned more than I contributed. I know the Portinari wine but now wish to revisit it, ASAP.
The way Dave contrasts it so nicely with the Stefanini: the less than auspicious way the wine first showed eventually evolving into something memorable this is the kind of writing I look forward to reading whether in wine or in music criticism. But you don't find it every day of the week! Well, Dave, next time we go out I'll bring a different Soave. Va ben?!

Terence said...

David, it's been interesting to see how this Stefanini wine, Monte de Toni, has developed since we first tasted it in tank samples. (Granted, malolactic fermentation had hardly started the first time we tried it.)

The most heartening thing in your post was the sense that the wine develops once it's poured. To me at least that's almost always a good sign -- well, always a good sign if it doesn't go off.

Francesco Tessari [of I Stefanini] tells me that the 2007s are developing splendidly. It was a very warm year in Veneto, so I only hope the wines aren't too big and fat. Which is a problem we WON'T have with the 2008s.

Thanks for an astute writeup, David. By the way, this particular wine is currently our best-selling white and just behind our top red.

Jeff Deasy said...

You've me convinced it's time to give Soave another try after many years. The last time I sipped a glass of Soave was more than 20 years ago. It was Bolla. I was young. Thanks for the nicely affordable recommendations.
All the Best, Jeff

David McDuff said...

Va ben, Giuseppe! Thanks for the gracious words. I'll look forward to that "different" Soave.

It's always interesting to compare tank samples with what eventually makes it into the bottle -- a great learning experience. Thanks again for the samples. I'm glad to hear the wine's selling well and will look forward to tasting it in vintages to come.

Welcome. Shop carefully and you may just find an experience that's worlds apart from your memories of 20 years ago.

TWG said...

These tasting notes and food matches are all well and good, Leim already posted on the effect of barometric pressure, how will you match the storm of the year with an appropriate wine?

David McDuff said...

Nothing scientific about it, Tom. I rang the storm in yesterday by tasting through Boutique Wine Collection's portfolio not long before the snow started to fall. I'll ring it out tonight with the second-half of a bottle of '04 Produttori Barbaresco.

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