Winter veggies meet Italy's vino queen

John H. Isacs
Seasonal foods are one of life's greatest pleasures.
John H. Isacs

Seasonal foods are one of life's greatest pleasures. As the mercury sinks in Shanghai, we are fortunate to be able to indulge in the delights of winter vegetables. While my astute friends at Shanghai Daily introduce these delicious veggies, I'll apply myself to the specifics of wine pairing and pick one ideal partner.

Winter vegetables come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and flavors including popular root vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, etc, and cruciferous and leafy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, fennel, cabbage, kale, spinach, etc. All boast high concentrations of healthy vitamins, minerals and antitoxins and all taste better with a glass of wine.

As a rule, white wines tend to pair better with winter vegetables as they complement rather than overpower the original flavor of the vegetables and are more versatile and nimble partners to the variety of seasonings and sauces in many vegetable dishes. The natural acidity of white wines also accentuates the freshness of the vegetables.

The list of winter vegetable synergistic whites is long and varied but one style of white in particular has the combination of freshness, elegance, balance and viscosity to pair with a multitude of seasonal veggie preparations.

Winter veggies meet Italy's vino queen
Ti Gong

The hilly vineyards of the Soave Classico region


The more I drink Soave the more I love it. Considering that I've been drinking Soave for half a century, that's really saying something. Situated approximately 20 kilometers from romantic Verona and 90 kilometers west of Venice, the small medieval town of Soave is one of Italy's most charming and picturesque destinations. The historic town is surrounded by scenic, vineyard-blanketed hills that generously contribute their fruit to one of Italy's most noble white wines.

The neighboring red wine region of Valpolicella makes the mighty Amarone wines, the king of Italian reds; while Soave has earned the right to be called the queen of Italian whites. Though eminently worthy of her acclaim this noble wine did experience a temporal fall from grace.

Half a century ago when I started drinking the wine, Soave was all the rage in the growing wine markets of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. For a period of time Soave even eclipsed the sales of the red wine Chianti making it the most popular Italian wine in the US. After two decades of enviable success, the Soave brand became victim of its own success.

Greater demand pressured Soave producers to expand production. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soave production area and vineyard yields grew exponentially and not surprisingly the overall quality of the wines suffered. The Soave brand was tainted and other Italian white wines were quick to fill the vacuum. In particular, the friendly and fruity Pinot Grigio whites captured the hearts of white wine lovers worldwide and became Italy's new white wine sensation.

A small holdout of high-quality Soave producers kept producing excellent wines and gradually their numbers grew. In 2001, Soave Superiore wines were granted DOCG status and these wines along with the better DOC examples gradually started winning back their historic prominence. Italy's greatest white wine was starting a new and better chapter.

The historic grape of Soave is Garganega. By law, the variety must comprise 70 percent of Soave wines with Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay also allowed in the blend. Basic Soave DOC wines are light, fresh and pleasant while the Soave Classico and Superiore wines offer greater elegance and complexity.

The lands surrounding the idyllic town of Soave are comprised of mostly clay, limestone and volcanic soils and the best vineyards in the traditional hilly Classico region are decidedly less fertile than the flatter lowland vineyards areas. The climate of the Soave region is influenced by the mists that flow from the Po Valley during the late stages of the growing season. These afternoon breezes have a beneficial cooling effect on the vines and help the grapes retain natural acidity.

Today, there exists two different styles of dry Soave white wines. Basic Soave DOC wines are usually simple and pleasantly fresh wines, while the higher-quality Soave Classico DOC and Soave Classico Superiore DOCG wines tend to be more textured, complex and lengthy. The Superiore DOCG wines have a higher minimum alcohol and longer aging requirements.

One excellent example of an apex Soave wine has recently arrived in Shanghai.

The 2018 Cantina di Monteforte Castellaro Soave Classico Superiore DOCG is a magnificently rich and textured wine with a light golden color, expressive nose of peaches and yellow fruit with mineral notes and a luscious velvety smooth palate with good freshness and a long elegant finish. If you wish to experience a top Soave, try this wine.

Not all good Soave wines come from the Classico region. The family-owned La Cappuccina winery makes a 100 percent Garganega organic Soave wine that offers lively floral and almond aromas and delicate fruit flavors. The renowned Valpolicella producer Bertani also makes a lively palate-pleasing Soave called Soave Edition.

Additional producers who have lovely Soave wines in Shanghai are Zenato, Viticoltori, Tommasi, Masi and Sartori. In addition to dry still white wines, the region of Soave also produces some fine sparkling and sweet Recioto di Soave wines.

Basic Soave DOC wines should be served well-chilled or about 6-8 degrees Celsius while the better Classico and Superiore wines are best served a few degrees higher to allow them to fully showcase their elite breed and savory qualities.

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