Soave Gets Serious

How Soave has become so much more than a nice, simple, little Veronese white wine

Soave region

Soave is a little like Audrey Hepburn at the beginning of Sabrina — when last we looked, she was this pale, skinny kid. Now, suddenly, she has blossomed into a bit of a temptress.

Years ago, Soave provided my first taste of Italian white wine, a holiday gift as part of a three-pack of everyday wines from the Verona region including the reds Valpolicella and Bardolino. Soave was pleasant and pleasurable, but nothing too memorable, yet I kept a special place on my palate for it.

Then, several years later, I visited Stefano Inama in Soave. He drove me in his Alfa-Romeo up into the hillsides where Soave should be grown, in the mineral-rich volcanic soils where the native Garganega grape thrives. “This ridge once exploded,” he explained, “while that one in the distance, with the red clay soil, didn’t.” That’s where he grows red grapes.

We had a few glasses of wine over lunch at the Enoteca di Montefiore. “Soave is a very old wine,” he says. “The Romans conquered the region, and they loved it — the only place in northern Italy with 100 percent volcanic soil. Garganega has been adapting to the region for 2,000 years, and that’s very important to a classic wine.” The problem came after World War II, when Soave producers started planting more vines on the fertile plains. In some instances, not enough Garganega was used, and what was used was often over-cropped — hence the growth of a simple, if pleasant, wine for the export market. But after a few sips of Stefano’s wine — also called Inama — I was in love with Soave again.

And apparently, I’m not the only one.

At a recent symposium held in New York, Soave enologist Giovanni Ponchia said that both the volume and dollar value of Soave shipments to the U.S. rose 20 percent in 2010 over 2009, a stunning jump at a time when many wine regions were losing sales.

While older Americans are often familiar with the wine, market research shows that many of the Millenials have little or no awareness of the “Soave brand.” As a result they are systematically being tracked down by Twitter and being be-friended on Facebook by the Soave producers.

The recent initiatives by the Soave Consortium have also targeted the wine trade, so we’re seeing more Soave choices in the marketplace. Some of my favorites tasted recently have been the Inama Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico (100 percent hillside Garganega with juicy, tropical flavors – full and complex, yet with good acidity) at about $20; Monte Carbonare “Suavia” Soave Classico (strong lactic and mineral qualities, a bit like a cross between an un-oaked Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, but 100 percent Garganega) at $27; and Runcaris Soave Classico (good fruitiness with lime, mint, chalk, but could use more structure) at $12.

Soave, you’ve grown up before my very eyes. How about dinner tonight?