Wine 101: Italy Region Deep Dives: Soave

Today’s episode features Maze Row Wine Merchant’s esteemed partner, Pieropan. For four generations, the Pieropan Family has pioneered winemaking in the Soave region. To give you some context, the Soave region is one of the most famous white wine Designations of Controlled Origin in Italy. Soave dates back to Roman times with castles and medieval city walls. Keep an eye out for Pieropan Soave Classico, a delightful white wine. To try Pieropan, follow the link in the episode description to

On this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers explores Valpolicella’s neighbor, Soave. He takes a look at the Soave region and its hard-to-pronounce, easy-to-sip white wine grape, as well as what this region might have in common with its neighbor. Tune in for more!

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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers, and it’s not… I’m not one to argue with the CEO of a company, but Adam Teeter, CEO of VinePair, I got to say: Tangerine LaCroix.

What’s going on, wine lovers? From the VinePair podcast network, this is “Wine 101,” and my name is Keith Beavers, I’m the tastings director of VinePair. What’s going on?

So we’re hanging out in Italy, guys. We’re still here and we’re still in the north and we’re just neighboring Valpolicella. It’s a place called Soave. It’s a wine called Soave, and it’s a little bit confusing. Let’s demystify.

Okay, wine lovers, we are still in Northern Italy here, and the last region we talked about was Valpolicella. And today we’re going to talk about the region just east of Valpolicella. It’s neighboring, or actually, borders Valpolicella, and it has a very similar history to the Valpolicella region.

It’s called Soave, and I’m sure — again, like Valpolicella — you may have heard the word Soave and you may know it, you may not. But it’s a wine region, and it’s a wine that’s been on our American market for quite some time, and it sometimes gets glazed over because of its history. So we’re still in this pre-Alps mountain range area with cascading mountainous hills coming down into the valley, creating valleys and hills. We have vines that are primarily in those hills of those valleys. And this is a place that grows a white wine grape called Garganega. I know it’s hard to say Garganega. A little trick with Italian that I learned once: Always emphasize the first vowel, even if you think it’s not going to work. It works.

Pizza, prosciutto, Garganega or Garganega. I’ve heard it pronounced both ways. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that this is the primary variety for the Soave region. And the original Soave wine region… the Soave region is named after the town of Soave and the hills surrounding the town, I guess most to the east and the north. And when you go over these hills on the other side, you’re going east. When you get onto the other side of these sort of hillish sub-Alpine mountains, you are in a different area of vineyard space that is still part of the Soave region, but is surrounded by a town called Monteforte d’Alpone. And this area is associated with a different style. So what’s happening here is you have the town of Soave and its surrounding hills. And this surrounding hill area is divided into two styles of wine made from the Garganega variety.

In the area closest to Soave, you get kind of very steely, crisp, clean, focused white wine with good acidity and some sharp aromas. On the other part of the hills towards the other town, Monteforte d’Alpone, the soil changes a little bit and the exposure changes a little bit, and the variety tends to produce wines that are a little bit fuller, but still crispy and clean, from the same variety: Garganega. So what we have here is a place where the variety was realized and the product of these grapes were celebrated. And this area was, I guess you could say, demarcated in kind of being talked about and defined in the late 1920s. But just like with Valpolicella in 1968 when the appellation system was being created in Italy, Soave was expanded enormously to the point where the surrounding hills were still part of the wine region, and there were actually other hills separated from that original area that were part of the wine region.

But just like in Valpolicella, it was expanded so that the alluvial plain, the flat alluvial plains outside the hills, was also part of the wine growing region. And the result of that meant that, just like in Valpolicella, the quality of wine that was being grown and made in the alluvial plains was very different from that of which was being made in the original hills. And because of that, the quality, or the perception of quality of Soave, was diluted because the majority of the wines being made and being distributed on the market were from the alluvial plains. And the white wine grape, Garganega, it needs hillsides, it needs harsh soils, it needs to work a little bit to develop what Jedi wine master Jancis Robinson calls “garden herbs.” And I swear, if it’s a great Soave, you smell those garden herbs and it’s a wonderful part of the complexity of the wine.

So you have an original area that was doing very well and had a reputation, and there were some outlying areas as well. Then you have this large alluvial plain that’s now part of Soave. This is all one variety here, and it’s in a white wine variety. And it’s amazing, the differences of complexity and quality depending on where this white wine grape has grown. So the way it shook out in the end is that the Soave region got very complicated for us on the American market. When we see Soave in a wine shop, we don’t know what we’re looking at. We understand the word Soave — okay, it’s a white wine, it’s Garganega. What’s Soave Classico? What’s Soave DOC? What is all this stuff? So what happens is this is a wine region that was always trying to get back to its original glory.

Get back to the time before the DOC, because before the DOC was awarded, just like Valpolicella, the hillside wineries were thriving on this amazing sort of export market within the country. So over time, four appellations were created in this space in an attempt to focus on the differences between the wines from one grape in this region. So this is how it shakes out.

You have the Soave DOC — this is wine that can come from anywhere in the Soave region. Then you have Soave Classico DOC. This, just like in Valpolicella, is for those two areas I talked about surrounding Soave and the other town on the other side of the hill, Monteforte d’Alpone. This is the original place where everyone fell in love and it’s now called Soave Classico. Now there are hillside vineyards outside the Classico area.

So those hills have their own DOC; it’s called Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC and there are hills just west of Soave, there’s hills northeast of the area. So these are the other places that have proven to be great wine-producing areas that are just outside of the Classico region. And then there’s this other one… Guys, I’m sorry, there’s… I’m telling you, there’s four of these, is Soave DOCG Superiore. And this was an attempt to kind of, I don’t know, there was an attempt to kind of draw down a little bit on the quality. If you want to do a Superiore, it’s a lower yield requirement and the alcohol has a minimum of 12 percent. So you’ll see these on the labels, you’ll see Soave DOC, Soave Classico DOC and to make it a little more confusing — I don’t want you guys to focus too much on this because it can be very confusing and we’re still in development — but this area has also awarded 47 villages the ability to append their village on the label.

That’s a lot. So what I think we should focus on here with Soave is the Classico area and the Colli Scaligeri area will give you what Soave originally wanted to give: a little more complexity, some depth, some steeliness, some aromas. Soave Supieriore DOCG can also do that because a lot of them come from the Classico region and stuff like that. In the Soave DOC is sort of the everyday wine of the Soave region. So I also want to emphasize that I know we’re talking about a white wine region, but this grape makes awesome wine. Wine that is just… white wine that is structured with just the right amount of acidity, salinity, very kind of like, quiet, those herbs, the quiet aromas. It’s not a very pronounced white wine. But it’s a very refreshing, very satisfying white wine, Soave.

And these days the Garganega grape is still the primary varietal, but they’ve added a couple varieties that you can blend because sometimes it’s a late-ripening variety and it has thick skin so it can handle the weather. But sometimes — this is wine — sometimes the fruit doesn’t set the way the winemakers want. So there are other varietals you can have in the blend. So, throughout all of the Soave region, 70 percent of the wine needs to be Garganega or Garganega. And then the rest of the 30 percent can be made up of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, even Sauvignon Blanc. But primarily the Trebbiano di Soave, which is actually Verdicchio. But because Verdicchio is the name used in Le Marche, the people of Soave wanted to give respect to that and name theirs Trebbiano di Soave, so as not to copy them. Very cool of them. And that’s really it for Soave, wine lovers.

It’s an awesome wine. I’m happy to talk about it because you’re going to see it a lot. It’s around. And when you go to a wine shop, I mean any wine shop is going to have Soave pretty much, but if you go to a wine shop that’s a little more curated, you can find Soave that really will just be like, “Oh wow, this is like, am I smelling chamomile and honey?” It’s just, it’s awesome. Okay guys, see you next week.

@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there.

And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

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