When I first offered the delicious Suavia Soave Monte Carbonare 5 years ago, not only was it hard to come by, so was the press. Nowdays it’s still hard to come by, but a few big-name critics are onto it, which for those who’ve tasted previous vintages, will come as no surprise.
High profile critic James Suckling is the latest to see the light, headlining his November 2021 article “Suavia Winery: Driving Soave’s rise from cheap whites to world-class.”
He went on to observe that the Suavia’s Monte Carbonare, “first produced in 1986 is now considered one of the best expressions of Soave Classico.” He awarded the current release, the 2019 vintage, a whopping 96 points, which is an astounding score for any white wine, let alone a Soave.
You may recall the previous vintage took out equal top spot in Decanter Magazine’s article “Spotlight on Soave” and was also awarded an incredible 96 points - an amazing score for a Soave from the notoriously hard-marking team at Decanter.
Garganega vines here are grown on tall trellises allowing the grapes to hang beneath the canopy, shielded from the sun. “We only grow the two native varieties of Soave in our vineyards: Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave. Two white grapes that have lived in our hills for centuries.” Alessandra Tessari.
Soave (pronounced swah-vay) is a dry Italian white wine, the name of the region in which it’s grown and of a medieval village. The vineyards of Soave sit within the larger region of Veneto, in Italy’s north east. In 2016 the hillside vineyards of Soave DOC joined Italy’s national heritage list. Veneto stretches from its capital Venice, in the east, to the shores of Lake Garda in the west. In the north east are the Piccolo Dolomiti (the little Dolomites), home to Cortina skiing, and this beautiful region is also home to the famous wines of Valpolicella, Amarone, and Prosecco.
Soave became a certified DOC (appellation) in 1968 and the ensuing decades saw its boundaries expand dramatically. Today it is about 10,000 acres, making it one of the largest DOCs in Italy.
Initially this modern Italian wine was introduced to the world as something fresh, light and affordable. But most of the expansion of the region has been on the fertile, alluvial plains surrounding the Adige River, where the emphasis has been on quantity over quality. Soave became a massive wine factory and gained a reputation for wine that was neutral, watery and too homogenous to be taken seriously.
Alessandra, Valentina and Meri Tessari run the vineyards and winery on the family estate.
As the New York Times noted several years ago; “every era has its default wine, a drink so bland that nobody notices it and so cheap that no one cares. The current preferred white is Pinot Grigio… for a few years in the 70s and 80s, the default white was Soave,” August 2012. Ouch.
Of course good Soave still exists, it’s just hidden beneath Soave’s unfashionable reputation. Within the Soave DOC is the subzone of Classico. Defined in 1927 and currently about 2,700 acres, it covers the original and best hillside areas around the towns of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone, near Verona. It’s within the Classico zone that you’ll find volcanic soils as well as estates committed to producing high quality wines.
Soave is made from a minimum of 70% of the local indigenous white grape, Garganega - a vigorous variety that responds well to having its yields restricted and gives best results in the volcanic soils of the Classico area. The remainder may be any combination of trebbiano di soave, chardonnay, pinot bianco or sauvignon blanc.
Valentina in the winery.
When made well, Soave is one of the great white wines of Italy. I find it sometimes a bit like a ripe Chablis. It has great structure and a steely minerality that’s unlike anything we have here in Australia.
“True Soave is medium-bodied with fine acidity and a lively flowery aroma of white and yellow fruit, and garden herbs, taking on notes of chamomile and honey with age.” Oxford Companion to Wine.
“The best examples of Soave, generally from the Classico zone when yields have been restricted to allow the grapes to fully ripen, are characterised by lemon and almond flavours and a fine grainy texture like that of fresh pears. This delicacy combines with fresh acidity to give wines that may be steely and yet still tantalisingly spicy.” Jancis Robinson from her book Wine Grapes.
“But what really sets today’s Soave apart is a scintillating, mineral-toned freshness that barely seems to diminish with bottle age and which gives the wine its remarkable elegance and balance,” Decanter Magazine, May 2017.
There’s a small bunch of producers bringing Soave back into vogue, one of which is Suavia.
100% garganega, fresh, clean and minerally. This is the hottest Soave in town and I’m very pleased to once again get my hands on some.
Suavia is the ancient name for the town of Soave. Just to the north you’ll find the even smaller town of Fittà where the Tessari family has owned vineyards since 1887. It was only in 1982 though that Giovanni Tessari stopped selling his grapes to the local co-operative and started making his own wine. These days the 12ha estate is run by Giovanni’s three daughters; Meri, Valentina and Alessandra.
This extraordinary estate sits in the centre of the Classico region, higher than most others, with the 3 sisters devoting their energies solely to the region’s two native white varieties, garganega and trebbiano di soave.
The sisters place great importance on the area’s volcanic basalt soil; “We always say that this wine is like a bit of earth in a glass and it’s true. In the Monte Carbonare vineyard the vines sink their roots deep down into the black earth: pure volcano. This gives the wine personality, forthright and truthful, with a sharp mineral nature. It tastes of rain on flint, on the black stones of the dry walls, and of that good fragrance that countryside releases when dampened by the first rain.”
The vines are around 35 years old and the sisters tend them meticulously without the use of synthetic fertilisers or insecticides. The winery, while modern and efficient, still incorporates non-invasive techniques such as the use of gravity to move wine around. The wine does not see any oak is 12.5% alcohol and sealed with cork.
The wine is pale gold and crystal clear. Be sure to give it a few minutes to let it open up in the glass and on the nose you’ll find beeswax and pineapple aromas imbued with a richer leesiness. On the palate it’s clean, crisp and deliciously dry, with grapefruit, white peach and musk notes. A passing nuttiness on the back of the palate reveals pepper and flint on the finish. Why is this a good wine? The delicious combination of flavours and its masterly balance of fruit and acid.
The Tessari sisters, have grown up on the land in Soave, with their family having owned vineyards here since 1887.
“Incredible melange of fruit on the nose here. Fresh pear, melon, peach and more exotic notes of papaya and even banana. Add to that, aromas of dried flowers and river stones. Medium-to full-bodied and layered with lip-smackingly fresh, exotic fruit up front and a dense bed of sweeter fruit and mineral underneath. The intensity doesn’t let off for minutes.” 96 points, James Suckling.
“Colour: straw yellow with brilliant highlights. Nose: it shows yellow flowers, exotic fruit and white peach, with smoky and peaty notes. Palate: juicy fruit palate accented with mineral, aromatic herbs and almond, alongside crisp acidity. The finish is dry and very persistent.”
Not much of it around in retail land, but you could enjoy a bottle overlooking Whale Beach at Jonah’s… for $119.
This really is one of the nicest Soaves you’re going to try.
Note that the price of this wine has increased, so you'll see it at over $50 in some places. Fortunately I secured my allocation early, so am able to offer it at the same price as the previous vintage. Be sure to grab some before it all goes.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle.