Monthly Archives: May 2010

Soave: One of Italy’s Great Terroir Based Wines and It Can Age

Recently I was invited to a PR event that included an invitation to a NY Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. After the event I was told that they had run out of tickets but to make up for it they would send me on a press trip to Soave!

  I have been drinking Soave for over 30 years and it is a lovely area and town. I always wanted to spend more time there, so I said yes. Before leaving, I was told that a surprise would await me in Soave, but no one would tell me what it was.

 I was picked up at the airport in Venice by Giovanni Ponchia who was to be our guide through the vineyards and wineries of Soave. Giovanni is an enologist who works for the Consorzio Tutela Soave, who hosted this trip.  The Consorzio was established in 1970 to protect and promote Soave.  Giovanni is interesting, knowledgeable and passionate when he speaks about Soave and our group of journalists agreed that having him with us was a great help.

Tasting the Wines of Soave

 Giovanni by use of slides and maps gave us an excellent introduction to the Soave area and its wines.

 The Soave production zone lies in the eastern part of the Province of Verona in the region of the Veneto. The production zone is of volcanic origin and the hills where the vineyards are planted have rocky strata that are a result of lava flows that turned into sediment over time. The soil is dark, stony and rich in minerals. There is a difference between the soil of the hills and the soil of the flat lands. The soil does make a difference. Soave is one of Italy’s great terroir- based wines.

Azienda Agricola i Stefanini- the wine and the soil

  Soave is a relatively small concentrated area and it has a history of selling grapes outside of the region. There are some 3,000 growers and the DOC is the largest in the province of Verona accounting for 40% of the production. There are 52 crus in the zone and like Barolo one cru can be worked by different producers. The vineyards are so close together that they all “spray” at the same time.   

The grapes are the same for Soave DOC, Soave Classico DOC, and Soave Superiore DOCG., Soave DOC,Colli Scaliger, and Reciotto di Soave.

 Garganega is the primary grape and Soave must contain at least 70% of it. The other 30% is made up of Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco (Trebbiano Toscano has been excluded).The better producers use 100% Garganega, or very close to it. There does not seem to be much Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco used.  Trebbianio di Soave seems to be the new favorite, but this is a matter of controversy. One producer, Ca’ Rugate, next year will add Trebbiano di Soave because they felt it would make one of their wines a little different.

 Garganega is the fifth most planted white grape in Italy and may be related to the Grecanico grape of Sicily. Many of the wine makers said it is not markedly aromatic in nature, but displays a range of perfumes of which almonds and white flowers are the most clearly identifiable. It does not actually complete its ripening until October. Its skin is very tough and is a particularly deep yellow (verging on red) when ripe. It does not display especially high acidity but rather a balance of extract and fruit sugars.

 Trebbiano di Soave has traditionally always been present in the vineyards. It has a tangy liveliness that some wine makers feel blends well with the typical structure and density of the Garganega grape.

Giovanni Ponchia talking about the Veronese Pergola in the vineyards of the Pra' winery

 We spent a lot of time in the vineyards looking at the vines and the way in which they are trained. The training system for the vines is very interesting. It can be single or double Espalier Guyot and Cordon Spur) or a Pergola (known as Tendonne in the South). The vines grow on trellises and the leaves cover and protect the grapes from the sun. It can be a unilateral Pergola, or uni- or bi-lateral pergoletta Veronese- Veronese Pergola. This Pergola does not close all the way in the middle allowing some sun light to come through. This is the method used on flat land even at high elevation. The Veronese Pergola is again becoming popular among the producers. Many were very proud of this system and talked about it everywhere we went. No matter what the training system, there can be no less than 3,300 vines per hectare.

  The agronomist of Cantina di Soave said that in very hot years they would use the grapes grown under the Pergola for their best wines. In cool years, lacking sun they would use the grapes from the espalier vineyards.

Vineyard of one of the growers for Cantina di Soave

 Soave wine is split up according to the production regulations between Soave DOC, grapes grown outside the Classical zone, Soave Classico DOC, Soave Superiore DOCG, Recioto di Soave DOCG and Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC, grapes grown in the hills outside the Classical zone.

.Soave DOC grapes grown outside the Classical zone make a very refreshing wine that should be drunk within a year or two. It is usually vinified in stainless steel which gives it the floral and fruity notes.


Soave Classico DOC is a wine that comes from restricted zone between the hills of the   communes of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. This is the oldest original classical zone and the wines must be harvested and vinified there. It is a complex wine with mineral notes and floral and fruity character depending upon the soil in which the grapes are grown. When it is aged in barrels (barriques or botti) it can last for a number of years. This was demonstrated by the number of older vintages that we tasted and how well they have stood the test of time. There were two that were particularly impressive. The Soave Superiore Classico Foscarin Slavinis 2004 from Monte Tondo and the incredible 1990 Soave Classico “La Frosca” from Gini                                        


Soave Spumante DOC.  This is a very interesting sparkling wine but we did not taste any examples of it.  The few that we did try were very good. Vinification can be by Method Classico or the Charmat method.

 Soave DOC Colli Scaligeri– derived from grapes grown in the hilly area outside the Classical Zone.

 Soave Superiore DOCG The production zone is limited to the hillsides in the Classical zone and in the Colli Scaligeri. New vines must be trained using the Espallier system (Guyot and Cordon Spur) with at least 4,000 wines per hectare. For those vines planted before 2002 the Espallier, Pergola Inclinate and Pergoletta Veronese (mono or bilateral) are allowed.  It must have an alcohol level of 12% and 12.5 % for the riserva. Soave DOCG may be released on to the market only after 1st September of the year following the harvest and after bottle ageing of at least three months so as to emphasize characteristics of maturity and complexity. Wines aged a minimum of two years may be labelled as “Riserva”.

Gary Grunner and Luca Sabatini

 Luca  Sabatini from Cantina di Soave explained the quality difference by use of a pyramid.

“There is a natural and logical pyramid of quality that the rules for Soave are very much intended to reiterate.  At the top of the pyramid is Soave Superiore D.O.C.G., a true synthesis of selection and strict production methods, designed to be the upmost expression of quality. Then just below, there is Soave from the hillside sites, both in the Classico version (if obtained from grapes grown in the historic production area) and that from the Colli Scaligeri. At the base of the pyramid we have Soave D.O.C., which stands for its excellent price–quality ratio.”
Recioto di Soave DOCG– in 1998 this was the first Veneto wine to receive the DOCG.

In the Veronese, dialect the word Recioto derives from “recia”, the upper part of the bunch of Garganega grapes which is exposed to the most sunlight and therefore richest in sugar. Just before the harvest, a selection is made of the best bunches which are laid out on racks to dry. They are dried indoors in open plastic containers for from four to six months and lose over 50% of their moisture. In the past straw mats were used. A long, slow fermentation often takes place in small barrels in which the opening on top is closed with cement.

Recioto di Soave from Ca'Rugate in oak barrels with the date 31-01-08 written in cement

Arturo Stocchetti, a Recioto specialist of Cantina di Soave, makes three different Reciotos. One of them I have waited many years to taste and when I did I was not dissapointed. More on this wine in Part II and my adventures in Soave, visits to the vinyards, the crus, wineries, tastings and how I became “CAPITANO SPADARINO” delle terre di Suavia ( my surprise).


Filed under Soave, Uncategorized

Chianti: The Way I Like It

Chianti DOCG-From Tuscany, the World’s Italian Wine

The Chianti Lands

There are many great grape varieties in Italy but it if I was forced to choose one, it would be Sangiovese. Wines made from the Sangiovese grape, I have said many times, are the perfect wines to go with food. These wines have bright fruit, a hint of violets, and good acidity.  The best wine made from the Sangiovese grape is Chianti.

When I received the invitation from the Consorzio Vino Chianti inviting me to a seminar, lunch, and tasting of Chianti, I accepted.  What made the seminar of particular interest to me was the speaker, Daniele Cernilli of Gambero Rosso, the very influential Italian wine publication.  Decanter magazine picked him as one of the top 50 most influential men in the wine business.  I have known Daniele for a number of years and have great respect for his knowledge of Italian wine.

Daniele Cernilli

When I arrived I was told that the Chianti Castelgreve 2008 did not make it because of the volcano in Iceland, but the other 11 wines had arrived safely.

Daniele began by saying that expensive, over-oaked wines were falling out of favor in Italy. Italian winemakers were going back to simpler, drinkable wines that reflect the terroir and go with food.  Chianti is leading the way.

I could not have been more pleased!

Daniele said that a part of the law for the making of Chianti had been changed this year.

Chianti must be at least 70% Sangiovese but the law has limited the amount of international grapes such as Merlot to 10 %. Traditional Tuscan grapes like Canaiolo can also be used up to 30 %.The winemaker still have a lot of leeway. It was a good change in my opinion.

Daniele kept making the point that the wines we tasted were simple wines. I enjoy simple wines and all the wines were under $20, some of them as low as $10. They were all great values for the money.

The wines were from the Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colli Rufina, Colli Pisane, Montalbano and Montespertoli. Chianti can be produced throughout the Chianti area, including areas not listed above. Chianti superiore can be produced in the whole Chianti area and represents the highest expression of the wine. Chianti is the largest DOCG in Italy. The Consortium, which was established in 1927, also oversees the Colli Etrucia Central DOC and the Vino Santo del Chianti DOC wines.

Getting Ready to Taste the Wines

The Wines

 Chianti 2008 San Fabiano – The wine is 85% Sangiovese and 15% of other grapes. It is from the area around Arezzo and Daniele said that Sangiovese ripens very well there. It has aromas and flavors of cherries, some tannin and good acidity. I really liked this wine. Daniele also said that 2007 was good overall in Tuscany, however 2008 was better in Chianti.

Chianti San Lorenzo 2008 Melini – It is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Canaiolo.

Chianti 2008 Piccini — it is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Ciliegiolo and Daniele believed there might by some Merlot.  The color was deeper, less acidity, fresh fruit with a hint of cherry.

Chianti 2008 Ruffino –  At least 75% Sangiovese and the rest from traditional grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino. Daniele described it as a workman-like Chianti. I liked the fresh fruit aromas and flavors, good acidity and the touch of tannin. Adolfo Folonari from the winery was at the tasting and said the wine sells for $9.99.

Charles Scicolone and Adolfo Folonari at the Tasting

Chianti Villa Chigi 2008 Poggio Bonelli – 95% Sangiovese and %5 of grapes allowed by law. Cherry aromas and flavors with an earthly quality, cherry in the finish and aftertaste.

Chianti 2008 Guicciardini – 90% Sangiovese and 10% of grapes allowed by law. Good fruit and acidity and more tannic — a very well balanced wine.

Chianti Rufina 2008 I Veroni – Rufina is the smallest of the Chianti zones and the wines from here can age very well. There were aromas and flavors of red fruit, a hint of cherry. Well balanced and a very nice drinking wine.

Chianti Forteguerra 2007 Guerrini – 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo. Daniele referred to this wine as a country, rustic wine. It had aromas and flavors of cherry and good acidity.

Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2007- Fattorie Giannozzi– 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. It is a very easy drinking fruity wine.

Chianti Colli Senesi 2006 – La Cignozza-85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and 5% Mammolo. Daniele said that this wine had some wood aging. He felt this was a big, wine, more body than most of the others. It had cherry aromas and flavors and hints of tobacco. There was tannin and it was a little more complex than some of the others.

Chianti Rufina Nipozzano Riserva 2007- Frescobaldi -This was Daniele’s favorite wine, and the most expensive at $20. Daniele said that it did not have the body of the La Cignozzi but it was a more complex and elegant wine. It had good fruit and tannin and it was a wine that could age. It had aromas of wild cherry and a hint of hazelnut. There was a touch of sweetness that may have been caused by the oak.

The Bottles

I was very glad to see the use of native grapes in most of the wine and less use of international grapes. These were simple wines as Daniele pointed but they are the type of wines which I enjoy the most. One does not have to spend a lot of money to drink well.

I also hope that he is right and that the Italians are moving away from the big over oaked wines and from using international grapes. Chianti is leading the way and I hope the rest follow.


Filed under Chianti, Italian Wine, Uncategorized