Sampling superior Soave wines

in Wine by

By Celia Strong
I think we’ll start this week with the grapes that make our wine. Both of them are new to us and not often seen (or drunk for that matter).  One is the second mostly widely planted grape in the world. And, I’ll bet, most of us haven’t heard of it or known when we were drinking it.  This is a white wine grape known as Trebbiano, in Italy at least.  In Italy, this grape accounts for about one third of all the white wine.  In the region of Umbria, it makes the lovely Orvieto wines, which, if you haven’t tried lately, you should because it’s perfect drinking wine for hot weather and not expensive. In Umbria, Trebbiano is called Procanico. Elsewhere in Italy, it has about six different clones that are used. And, balsamic vinegar? We’ve all had some at some point, right?  It’s made from Trebbiano.
As a side note, Trebbiano goes by the name Ugni Blanc in France. There it is the most widely planted white wine grape. (I guess Chardonnay isn’t the queen of white grapes that some of us assumed it was. Even if they do have $700 and higher Chards in France.) In the Cognac region just outside Bordeaux, Trebbiano, aka Ugni Blanc, has yet another name — St. Emilion.  It is the grape that makes Cognac and Armagnac.  (See, you might have drunk some and not known it.)
Anyhow, our second grape is called Garganega, Italy’s sixth most widely planted white wine grape variety.  Much of it is grown in the northeastern region of Veneto, around the city of Venice. Genetically, Garganega has been shown to be the same variety as Grecanico from Sicily.  Also, it appears to be one of the parent grapes of Trebbiano.  In the sub-zone of Soave in the Veneto region, Garganega is the predominant white variety.  And, now you know our wine for this week — Soave.
Soave is a dry white wine that comes from the area around the city of Verona.  Within the world of Soave wines, there are two legal levels of the wine.  There is a DOC Soave that is less restricted and controlled in its production. And, there is the DOCG Soave Superiore.  And, yes, that translates as “superior.” More controls, better grapes, etc. Both of these wines also have a possible “Classico” designation that moves them up a notch as well. The Soave DOC was established in 1968 and the Soave Superiore was declared for the 2002 vintage. Garganega makes up 70 to 100 percent of any Soave wine.  It can be blended with Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay or Trebbiano di Soave (also called Verdicchio in this area). No wonder we don’t know when we’ve drunk some of these grapes.
Soave wines were hugely popular in the United States in the middle of the 20th century. This is because there was an Italian wine boom following the second World War. The popularity of Soave was due mostly to the marketing efforts of a large winery in that part of Italy: Bolla.  For years, even since I’ve been in Beaufort, people came to buy “Soave Bolla” like Soave was the winery name. (Interestingly, Bolla stopped making Soave several years ago, which is too bad because we should all be thrilled with these wines all summer.)
Our Soave for today, though, comes from Santi.  Santi traces its origins to 1843, when Carlo Santi established a wine cellar in the village of Illasi.  The original winery was located in the heart of the most acclaimed wine growing zones in the Veneto near Lake Garda. Santi is now an Italian wine making success story concentrating on four basic wines — Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, Amarone and Soave Classico. They use mainly their own estate grown grapes and some long term contracts with local growers who follow Santi’s directions. The Santi Soave Vignetti di Monteforte (Monteforte is one of the best areas in the Soave subzone.) is made from grapes grown at about 300 meters above sea level. They face Southwest as they grow so the afternoon sun lingers on them producing layers of flavors.  The soil is of volcanic origin with basalt formations and rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium. The grapes are harvested in early October, softly crushed and cold fermented. Malo-lactic fermentation is not allowed to happen so the wine’s acidity is fresh and crisp. The wine is allowed to rest on its lees for seven months which adds complexity and aromatics. The wine is straw colored with a fresh fragrance of elder flowers and hints of tropical fruits, herbs and honey. Just so you know, the blend for this Soave is 90% Garganega and 10% Trebbiano.
A couple of months ago, a “Wine Spectator” write up on this wine said, “Tropical pineapple and mango flavors mix with apple, tangerine and almond in this fruity Soave. A fleshy white, balanced by juicy acidity.” And you can drink it for $11.99 a bottle. Enjoy!