Moral of the Soave Story - Regaining Respect
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 1, 2006. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
Today's wine story does not come to us from Aesop or Grimm, but like those childhood fables it carries a small moral lesson.
Our featured wine, Soave, from the Veneto region in Northeastern Italy, was for many years a respected if not revered name in wine...a fresh, if simple, country wine made from a local grape, the white Garganega. Even its name - "suave," "gentle" or "smooth" in translation - suggests an early tendency toward the public-relations and marketing side of the wine economy.
Over the past generation, though, as world interest in wine dramatically increased during the 1970s and 1980s, Veneto producers - particularly Soave and its neighbor on the other side of Verona, Valpolicella - saw opportunity in the new demand. They cranked up production, lobbied for regulatory changes, and won permission to dramatically expand the boundaries of their regions and to increase the permissible yields of fruit. In a market dominated by large cooperative and corporate producers, they poured out a sea of lackluster, industrial-style wine that was drinkable at best but certainly forgettable.
The result? They sold a lot of cheap wine, and they lost the world's respect. Aesop would surely have drawn a moral from this.
But quality producers have fought to bring Soave's reputation back. After a series of often politically charged debates, top Soave producers have fought off efforts to expand vineyard yields still further, and have gained permission to add non-traditional grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc to round out the blend. Now top Soave producers like Pieropan and Gini, plus Anselmi and others, are making wines that needn't be concealed in brown-paper bags. Choose your Soave from producers recommended by sources you trust; look first for Soave Classico, from grapes grown in the traditional pre-expansion "classic" zone, and you're not likely to be disappointed. Better still, the 2004 vintage is now moving into the market, supplanting the slurpable but generally fruit-forward and idiosyncratic 2003s.
(In case you were wondering, the story is similar in Valpolicella, where trusted producers like Allegrini and many others, particularly in the Classico zone, are making memorable wines worth seeking out.)