Three days is not enough time to even begin scratching the surface of all that is happening in the world of Soave wine. But, if you have only three days, you do the best you can. Here are a few photos from the attempt a number of writers, merchants, and industry executives made during Soave Preview 2017. (Day One of this memorable event is chronicled on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/thomas.r.riley/media_set?set=a.10207375735345488.1073741878.1649647768&type=3)
Francesco Bonuzzi of Villa Canestrari welcomes us to his family’s Museo del Vino. Founded in the 1880s by his forebears, the winery takes advantage of its vineyards in the limestone soils of Valpolicella and those in the volcanic soils of Soave.
Museum visitors can see the office and laboratory of Francesco’s great-grandfather and get a sense of how wineries in the Veneto operated a century ago.
This simple cheese platter was eye-opening, and told me I need to question some of the dogmas that currently surround, and suffocate, wine pairings. One hint: think about fats and acids. The wines offered this day were brilliant with these cheeses, which were young, slightly aged, and let’s just say a tad older. A memorable treat.
After 130 years of winemaking, the Bonuzzi family has plenty to share with those eager to learn about the great wines of the Veneto.
At $58, this Amarone is a steal. A powerful and beautiful nose, loaded with spice, cherries, tobacco leaf, and bits of fresh leather, leads to a mouth-filling delight of complex richness, bright acids and low tannins, along with memorable depth and concentration. It got even brighter when paired with the oldest of the cheeses. Only 730 cases produced.
Do you like cherries? Then the Veneto in May is the place to be. These little fellows still had a week or so before being ripe, but there was plenty of good fruit to pluck near the vineyards we visited. Hard to get near the grapes without running into serious cherry production. Brought me back to my childhood and sunny days eating my fill, and more, from the tree in our backyard.
The cellars of Cantina del Castello date back to the 13th century. In addition to some of the family’s favorite wines, this cellar holds thousands of bottles of their well regarded recioto, Ardens, which was named in the early 1900s for the wine’s intrinsic character: ardent, like a flame burning brightly.
Described as the winery’s “calling card,” this all-steel (fermented and aged) Soave, typically 80-90% garganega, 10-20% trebbiano di Soave, tells you all you need to know about how the winery showcases the volcanic soils of Soave Classico. SRP $17
In the Veneto, they say that the best whites come from the black volcanic soils and the best reds come from the white clay and limestone. I encountered no evidence to the contrary.
Winemaker Arturo Stocchetti calls this wine “extreme Soave.” An 80-20 garganega/trebbiano blend, it’s picked on the later side, spends a year in steel on the lees and another year in bottle. Full bodied with great structure, and acid to beat the band, this is wine that helps erase any old thoughts you might have had about Soave and plonk being somehow connected. These are wines that demand attention. And you’ll be rewarded when you give it.
Late on Day Two, we climbed above the city into the experimental vineyards of Rocca Sveva, the flagship label of the large Soave co-op, Cantina di Soave. If you’ve ever wondered how or why people fall in love with the vinelands of Italy, a hike like this will tell you all you need to know.
When you travel in Italy, it’s almost axiomatic that time takes on a more relaxed flavor. But there are times when punctuality, even urgency, has some value. These fellows, and the rest of the sommelier team pouring for our panel sessions, apparently never got the memo. As one presenter said to me, “I wanted to scream, ‘pour the fucking wine!'” Perhaps there is no escaping the Italians’ more casual approach to just about everything.
If you are of a certain age, when someone says “Soave,” your immediate association is Bolla, the giant global producer. In other words, cheap and somewhat cheerful plonk. Today, the discussion in Soave is more about the fine points of grand cru vineyards, regional soil variations, and how to remind wine lovers that some of the best whites in the world come from this special place in the heart of the Veneto.
Day Two ended with a delightful al fresco dinner. I don’t know if this picture was taken before or after dinner, but it doesn’t matter. Morning, noon, and night, there is never enough time to learn about all the great things happening with the wines of Soave.
Day Three kicked off with a fascinating presentation on the traditional pergola vine training of the region, led by Professor Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan. Some interesting points on the continued use of pergola in the face of climate change were raised by Federica Gaiotti of Italy’s Agricultural Research Council. There is strong indication that wineries in the Veneto might be better off moving to guyot-trained vines.
The most embarrassing moment of my time in Soave: tasting through the morning’s flight, I enjoyed a number of wines but one of them really struck me as off, probably flawed. When we had finished, this fellow, seated next to me, asked me what I thought. I offered a few comments on various wines but said, finally, “but number four, ouch, not good at all.” He said, “that’s my wine.” He was a member of the winemaking team that had produced what I thought was an execrable wine. The hard part was that the winery in question, Filippi, had been discussed with great enthusiasm by many attendees. I “knew” I was supposed to like this label. My tablemate laughed and said, “give it time.” And so I did. By the end of the session it had come around, the initial funk had blown off, and it outshone most of the other wines in aroma, flavor, complexity, and depth. A real treat. Lesson: don’t judge wines on their first impression. Give them a second chance. Always.
You can’t walk too far in any Italian village and not bump into a good cup of coffee. A few minutes set aside for a double espresso, a chance to collect both thoughts and breath, is restorative, and a perfect punctuation no matter what sort of day you might be enjoying.
Valentina Tessari, the winemaker of her family’s Suavia Azienda Agricola, offers conference attendees a quick overview of local soils and growing practices. She and her sisters oversee a winery that has in recent years garnered its share of international acclaim. On volcanic soils near the village of Fitta, farmed by her family for generations, they craft distinctive wines of elegance and restraint.
This line-up of wines is worth keeping an eye out for. These are not to be found in the value section of your packie or grocery store, but they are prime examples of the special wines being made today in Soave. If you can, avoid the 2014s. It was a tough year, weather-wise, and the wines just don’t match up to the region’s best offerings.
This has to be one of the hottest questions in wine today. If it does, how does it occur? Why? If not, then what are people tasting when they say they detect salinity or wet stones or dusty gravel? Where do these sensations come from? Attempting to shed some light on it all was Salvo Foti, one of Sicily’s most acclaimed enologists and winemakers; Alessandro Brizi, Roman wine journalist and Italian wine expert; and, John Szabo MS, who recently published the groundbreaking work, “Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit, and Power.”
Despite all the light being shed on the topic this afternoon, questions remained. What didn’t remain were any traces of the excellent wines poured during the Volcanic Wines panel session. The fascinating line-up included wines from the Veneto, Sicily, Greece, Canary Islands, Germany, and Oregon.
Farming in heavily volcanic soils is nothing like what typical grape growers experience. Soil nutrients, topography, vine spacing and training — all these things and more are fundamentally different.
I don’t read Greek but I’d know this label anywhere: Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko. This wine is a staple in my home, but I’d never seen the local packaging. John Szabo MS told me that he hand-carried these bottles from the winery in Greece to the conference. Those in attendance were grateful for his labors. Fortunately, for non-Greek wine lovers, the labels come in English, too.
The Consorzio di Tutela del Soave, the organizers of Soave Preview 2017, made sure that attendees ended their immersion experience on a good note. This was the first of several courses. I just wish I had taken the photo before the tasty morsel in the lower right corner disappeared. Spectacular food and service to end the conference, a perfect complement to several days of professional efficiency and personal warmth. I’m a Soave fan for life.