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July 7, 2016

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Italy’s noble Soave wines make a great comeback

GOOD things happen when you drink Soave. Bright yellow and orange fruit deliciously envelop your palate, taste and tactile sensations are sharpened and your appetite is stimulated. All these attributes are deliciously highlighted during the summer months.

Situated approximately 20 kilometers from Verona, the medieval town of Soave is one of Italy’s most charming and picturesque destinations. The town is surrounded by scenic, vineyard-blanketed hills that generously contribute their fruit to one of Italy’s most noble white wines.

There was a time not terribly long ago when chic wine drinkers in major markets had little knowledge of Pinot Grigio, but Soave was all the rage. Some 40-50 years ago in major wine markets. Soave was the go-to Italian white wine. This was especially true in the rapidly growing US wine market. 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 an enviable run of success the Soave brand became victim of its own success.

Market success inevitably meant greater demand and this pressured Soave producers to expand production. In the world of wines increasing quantity isn’t quick or easy, unless of course you’re willing to sacrifice quality. Yields grew and quality sank and not surprisingly the Soave brand suffered. Other Italian and New World styles of white wine were quick to fill the vacuum. Pinot Grigio whites became Italy’s new white wine sensation while New World Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs increasingly captured new drinkers’ hearts. For Soave regaining respect and prominence in international markets has been a long and arduous process. But there’s good news.

Over the past few decades, a growing number of quality minded producers have been bringing Soave back to prominence. Large quantity driven big brands still exist but it’s the smaller, often family owned wineries that are building a new and brighter future for Soave. As a result, Soave is regaining its historic status as one of the world’s great white wines.

There are basically two different styles of Soave white wines, one that is simple, fresh and young and the other more textured, complex and lengthy. Many of the former are Soave DOC wines from flatland vineyards and the later from the older Classico region that are often classified as Superiore. Classico wines are made with grapes sourced exclusively from the historic and traditional growing areas of Soave.

Over the years the total growing of Soave has grown over threefold but the best areas are the more elevated hillside vineyards that comprise the Classico region. The soil is volcanic, clay or limestone and the climate tends to be cooler with more pronounced diurnal temperature variations. You may also see the word Superiore. In Soave this term means that the wines have higher minimum alcohol and aging requirements. However, the most reliable way to choose a good Soave is to pick the right producer.

One of my favorite producers is Cantina del Castello. Owner and winemaker Arturo Stocchetti has been an important catalyst in the quality renaissance of Soave. He blends the art of cultural traditions with the science and technology of modern winemaking to produce some of Soave’s best wines. His flagship Castello Soave Classico is a 90 percent Garganega and 10 percent Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio) wine with expressive fruit and floral sensations and luscious texture. This is a high-quality, fresh and distinctive wine that also happens to be a great value. Cantina del Castello also make two ultra premium Soave wines named Pressoni and Carniga that showcase the potential of Soave to be generous, complex and balanced wines.

Other good Soave producers who have wines in Shanghai are Viticoltori, Tommasi, Masi and Sartori.

In part due to a checkered past, Soave DOC and DOCG wines offer one of the best quality/price ratios for white wines. It’s relative easy to find a very nice bottle for about 200 yuan or less. That’s not all, there’s another compelling reason to pop the cork of a Soave wine. The wines of Soave also match beautifully with Taiwan style deep-fried oysters, Cantonese garoupa fish in scallions and soy sauce and Shanghai style river eel.

Where to buy in Shanghai


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