My first visit to Soave in 2013 brought me to Coffele Vintners, whose wines – made from lower yields and careful attention to vineyard and vat room work – imparted more concentrated flavors than your average drinker would expect from… an “average” Soave.
Even if the main Garganega grape used to make Soave wine lacks the same overt expressiveness of, say, Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc, it conveys savory flavors if handled correctly, and I was very pleased with my experience at Coffele.
My stay had offered a glimpse to Soave’s gently sloped vineyards crowned by a gorgeous medieval chateau: they count among the most picturesque I have seen.
Fast-forward to 2020 to a more qualitative approach to Soave wines has been formalized since last year with a classification modeled after terroir and climate, similar to Burgundy premier crus. Covering under 40% of the some 7,000 hectares of Soave vineyards, 33 specific “geographic units” or Unità Geografica Aggiuntiva (U.G.A.) refer to geographic areas within appellations that have been determined to hold particular merit.
The UGAs are based on 20 years of studies of soils, climate conditions and trellising. Each one is expected to convey different expressions of Soave, based on the combined influence of soils, altitudes, aspects, climate influence as enhanced by winemaking and winery style.
Thanks to Chiara Mattiello of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave e Recioto di Soave, I tasted how some of these terroirs are expressed in bottle, having taken part in an online tasting this summer with wine experts such as Andrew Jefford, Asa Johansson, Chris Broiling, Simon Staffler and Elizabeth Gabay MW. I also tasted some of these wines with friends in Bordeaux, to get another perspective. Based on these tastings, I came away rather impressed. And although not all of us agreed about every wine, we appreciated the distinct terroir differences now more clearly defined by the new classification system.
Take for example the southern Tenda UGA, encompassing just under 100 hectares under vine, and combining the two areas of Rocca and Monte Tondo. The iconic medieval castle of Soave identifies the landscape, marked by coniferous woods of pines and cypresses, whose hilly vineyards include limestone and calcareous deposits that lend freshness. Indeed, the Giannitessari Monte Tenda Soave 2018 clocking in at 12% alcohol is an easy-going, dry aperitif wine that costs less than €6 ex cellar. Somewhat green and flinty, it has been crafted from grapes grown on calcareous vineyards located near the famous castle, and it exudes fresh herb and (just fallen from the truck) green melon. If ever available in the U.S., it would be about $11 retail, a darn good deal. Although 2018 was yet another “heat wave vintage,” with over nine straight days of over 92°F temperatures, the wine comes across peachy fresh. Scored at 87/100.
Also in the south, but further to the East, the Zoppega UGA encompasses about 51 hectares of vines on hilly terrain with deep, volcanic soils, making up the boundary of the Soave Classico designation. The almost exclusive southern exposure, from a climactic point of view, strongly influences the characteristics of the wines, but there is a cooler microclimate than in Tenda. And the Meridies Soave Classico Nardello 2018 for example, weighing in at 12.5% alcohol, comes across with cooler expressions of fruit, friendly and bright, albeit with a touch of hazelnut and honey on the nose. The palate ends with a pleasing saltiness on the finish. 88/100. Available for $13 at Premier Wine & Spirits Amherst, New York.
My overall favorite among wines tasted was the Marco Mosconi Rosetta Vecchie Vigne Soave 2018, clocking in at 12.5% alcohol. It comes from the Paradiso UGA in the extreme northwestern part of Soave, with slopes reaching as high as 200 meters above sea level. This wine exudes a rather subtle and complex nose of shaved almond, white flower, citrus, white stone fruit and quince. A close to full-bodied palate exudes wet stone minerality on the finish: a superior wine, this is. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature and lasts about a month. Aged in stainless steel for about ten months before bottling, the 100% Garganega 40-year-old vines contribute to a greater sense of depth here. The vines grown on marl soils 200 meters above sea level. Should be about $20 retail in the U.S. 91/100
Another favorite proved to be the Rocca Sveva Giondola Soave Superiore 2017 at 13% alcohol, with a gorgeously, albeit slightly oxidative floral nose with orange blossom, perfumed and elegant. On the palate, some sexy tropical fruit aspects, too. It is now categorized as coming from the Castelcerino UGA, also in the Western part of the appellation, but much closer to the center than Paradiso. Back in October 2013 at the Digital Wine Communication Conference in Rioja, Spain, I enjoyed a vertical tasting from this estate, and I liked also the cooler expressions experienced with the 2008. This UGA spans about 230 vineyard hectares, and is one of the most significant UGAs in size. Soils along slopes include loamy clay over deep calcareous soil. Similar to the nearby Fittà district, Castelcerino is characterized by higher than average annual and average temperatures are relatively mild, so daily temperature swings are not among the highest.
The 33 crus officially called Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive on Soave labels from 2019 onwards are:
Castelcerino, Colombara Froscà, Fittà, Foscarino, Volpare, Tremenalto, Carbonare, Tenda, Corte Durlo, Rugate, Croce, Costalunga, Coste, Zoppega, Menini, Monte Grande, Ca’ del Vento, Castellaro, Pressoni, Broia, Brognoligo, Costalta, Paradiso, Costeggiola, Casarsa, Monte di Colognola, Campagnola, Pigno, Duello, Sengialta, Ponsarà, Roncà – Monte Calvarina.