Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Soave Experiment: We Taste Two From Italy and Get One Hit and One Miss

If the name Soave isn’t familiar, you can be excused – but not for long. Soave, the fresh white wine of Italy’s Veneto region, has been absent from the world stage for decades but is poised to make a big comeback.

World War II veterans returned from Italy with scraps of European culture and lure, among them the mistaken idea that “Soave” was a generic term for light, dry wines and “Chianti” was the term for inexpensive red wines. Although inaccurate, the idea kept the name in the commercial mainstream. I recall decades ago Soave Bolla being advertised on television. It was a wine favored by Frank Sinatra in the late 1950s.

Soave is among Italy’s best white wines and has a fresh, delicate character that emphasizes the aromatic quality of it’s main grape, Garganega.Last year Soave exports to the US increased by more than 20%.

The scattered hillsides of Veneto east of Verona are home to the vineyards of Soave. Beautiful centuries-old castles, churches, bell towers and aristocratic villas are all part of the rich history and traditions of this area. The terroir is rich with minerals and volcanic soil which imparts distinctive fresh, clean and fruit-forward flavors.

We recently sampled two Soave wines. The first was the Re Midas Soave DOC. The “King Midas” wine is 100% Garganega coming from the vineyards in the village of Soave with mostly volcanic soil.

The aroma from this wine was wonderful, prompting our tasting crew to think of a crisp, dry Riesling. The body wasn’t as light as I thought it would be. The mouth texture seemed more silky than crisp with minerality. Sax Man said he felt it was a little flat and could use a spark. However, when sampled with a slice of apple, it paired very well. Fresh fruit flavors were evident and the finish had a nutty, earthy quality to it. That was a surprise to me as I was expecting more of a Pinot Grigio style.

Our second tasting was the Tenuta Sant’Antonio DOC Fontana 2008. This bottle was a problem from the beginning. The capsule was intact, but after it was removed we could see that the seal from the cork wasn’t good. Wine had seeped out leaving a sticky brown residue.

The color of the wine was a much deeper honey yellow and it gave off a perfume-like aroma. We sampled a bit, but we weren’t sure whether the musky, nut-like flavor that dominated was the aim of the winemaker or the result of a bum cork.

Warmer weather is coming (so they say) and that means ideal conditions for becoming reacquainted with Italy’s light and fresh Soave wines.

Full disclosure: We received these wines as samples.

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