Mention volcanic wines and the first things that spring to mind are exciting reds from Mt Etna or tangy whites from Santorini. But it might surprise you to learn that there are several other volcanic regions of note - including Soave.
In November last year, Decanter magazine identified Soave (pronounced Swah-veh) as one of the world’s “top volcanic terroirs” and the region hosted the International Volcanic Wine Forum in 2016. A key speaker at the event was John Szabo, a Canadian master sommelier, wine critic and author of Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, which won the André Simon Food and Drink Book Award in 2016. Szabo observes that “volcanic soils are known for preserving unique indigenous grape varieties that offer different flavours than do such ubiquitous international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet,” and “minerality and volcanic wines go hand-in-hand.” Bloomberg, March 2018.
Soave is a dry Italian white wine, it’s also the name of the region in which it’s grown and there’s a medieval village bearing the name Soave. 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 it’s capital, Venice, in the east, to the shores of Lake Garda in the west. In its north east are the Piccol Dolomiti (the little Dolomites), home to Cortina skiing. And as if that’s not enough, 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.
As the New York Times noted. “every era has its default wine, a drink so bland that nobody notices it and so cheap that no one cares. The current defer 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.
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 mineraly - this is the hottest Soave in town. It wasn’t easy, but I’m very pleased I got 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 3 daughters; Meri, Valenina 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.
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.
I’m not sure why, but the estate doesn’t have the wine reviewed by critics until many months after its release, by which time it’s sold out. The previous vintage, 2016, received 91 points from Decanter - a great score for a white wine of this price. It also received the highly coveted Tre Bicchieri (3 glasses) from Italy’s Bible of wine, Gambero Rosso, and recognition with a ‘Grande Vino’ rating in the Annual Slow Wine Guide 2019.
The wine is pale gold and crystal clear. On the nose you’ll find pineapple, white peach, fruit blossom and musk notes imbued with a richer leesiness. On the palate it’s clean, crisp and deliciously dry, with lemon, thyme and musk. A passing nutiness on the back of the palate reveals exquisite honeysuckle and flint on the finish. Why is this a good wine? The delicious combination of flavours are clearly defined without losing subtlety. And I love its masterly balance of fruit and acid.
This wine is on a limited number of cool lists around town including Fred’s, LuMi Dinning and Redfern Continental.
Really delicious - exactly what a great Soave to be.
I can offer it for $41 a bottle (limited). Click here to order