Soave—the Italian dry white wine made around the eponymous medieval town east of Verona—is often associated with light-bodied, zesty bottlings destined for immediate consumption. But the best of them, made with grapes grown in hillside vineyards planted in volcanic or calcareous soils, are world-class, full of flavor and characterized by depth and surprising longevity.
To help highlight the two distinct styles, the denomination introduced 33 official vineyard areas or crus. Starting with the 2019 vintage, they’re officially known as Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGA). These areas account for 38% of the appellation and highlight the growing zone’s most suitable areas, where native grape Garganega thrives.
Besides the newly established vineyard areas shared by multiple producers, Soave, along with the entire Veneto region, has adopted a more serious approach to controlling single-vineyard bottlings from specific, individual vineyards.
A Soave by Any Other Name
The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) for Soave comes in three categories: Soave, Soave Classico and Soave Colli Scaligeri. Soave, the most popular, is grown outside the Classico zone, often in the plains. It has an annual production of 30 million bottles.
In 1931, the Italian government delimited what is now the Classico zone in recognition of its excellent wines. Then, in the 1960s, Soave expanded from its original 4,200 acres to today’s 17,297 acres, spanning across 13 townships.
Soave Classico has lower yields, and it turns out 12 million bottles per year. Stretching between the towns of Soave and Monforte d’Alpone, Classico’s hills are largely considered the best area, with basalt soils of volcanic origin as well as calcareous clay.
Soave Colli Scaligeri, from hills outside the Classico zone, has never taken off as a category. Most producers, even those with high-quality vineyards, label their wines as simply “Soave.”
Mainstream Soaves are crisp and easygoing, with delicate sensations that range from floral to fruity.
“Practically no one uses the Colli Scaligeri mention,” says Antonio Fattori, owner of Fattori Winery. “It’s too long, too difficult to pronounce for English speakers and difficult to explain.”
Fattori’s production includes the single-vineyard Soave Motto Piane, from the Roncà-Monte Calvarino cru, which has basalt soils.
Soave also has two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) bottlings. Soave Superiore DOCG, made with the lowest yields, has a higher minimum alcohol content and more extract than the DOC, but it accounts for just a fraction of overall output.
Most producers, feeling the DOCG should have been reserved for a specific area rather than a style, shun the category. Recioto di Soave, a sweet wine made with dried grapes, is also a DOCG.
Soave DOC must be made with a minimum of 70% native Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave or Chardonnay, although many producers use 100% Garganega. The rules are essentially the same for Superiore, except Chardonnay is not permitted.
A Tale of Two Wines
Mainstream Soaves are crisp and easygoing, with delicate sensations that range from floral to fruity. Higher-end bottlings, on the other hand, have complexity, elegance, intensity and a captivating depth of creamy flavors like peach, pear, spice, crushed herb, almond and savory mineral tension.
The latter are often fermented and aged partially or wholly in wood to add complexity. Top tier bottlings show wonderful balance, most with the ability to age for 10 years or more.
“The amount of wine maturing in the cellars means we’ll see a good number of UGA labels on the shelves.” – Sandro Gini
Soave’s different expressions depend largely on vineyard sites, which also influence winemaking styles. Soil and altitude play a fundamental role, because late-ripening Garganega excels in the volcanic and calcareous soils of the best slopes.
Made with 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave, Calvarino is cultivated using the traditional pergola system, while La Rocca, from 100% Garganega, is trained with spur cordon. The two wines offer diverse expressions.
“Calvarino’s volcanic soils exalt freshness and elegance, mineral and floral sensations, while La Rocca’s warmer microclimate and calcareous clay soils generate more structure and fruit-driven sensations,” says Andrea Pieropan, agronomist and co-owner of the family firm along with his mother, Teresita, and his brother, Dario, an enologist.
Old vines, found in the Classico area, impart great depth and extraordinary longevity. Gini has some of the oldest plants in the denomination. The firm’s La Froscà bottling, formerly a single-vineyard bottling and now a UGA, is made with 100% Garganega, from vines that average 90 years of age. Those for Contrada Salvarenza Vecchie Vigne are over 100 years old.
“Our vineyards have dozens of old clones, entire fields of genetic diversity,” says Sandro Gini, the enologist who runs the family firm with his agronomist brother, Claudio. “Besides giving wines natural balance and concentration, these ancient vines are trained on the traditional pergola that elevate grapes about 6½ feet off the ground. This keeps grapes grown in our dark volcano soils cooler than other training systems, especially important now that growing seasons are hotter and drier due to climate change.”
UGAs and Single Vineyards
Delimiting the 33 UGAs, 28 of which are in the Classico zone and five in the other hillside areas, is the culmination of years of collaboration between wineries and the Consorzio, universities, scientists, agronomists and enologists. Researchers looked at all aspects of the vineyard areas, but focused primarily on altitude and soil composition for their ability to generate different flavor and aroma profiles.
In their debut 2019 vintage, 23 of the UGAs were used.
“We’re happy with the results,” says Sandro Gini, who is also president of the Consorzio. “The amount of wine maturing in the cellars means we’ll see a good number of UGA labels on the shelves. Producers will communicate the specific areas in a coordinated manner, so consumers will know from the label that Soave from a UGA required particular commitment by the producer in the vineyard and in the cellar, often with longer aging, and that these growing areas are suited to the production of high-level wines.”
Soave producers that make single-vineyard wines now have to register the vineyard in advance with the Consorzio and use the term “Vigna” on the label.
10 Sensational Soaves
Gini 2016 Contrada Salvarenza Vecchie Vigne (Soave Classico); $40, 96 points. Aromas of Spanish broom, acacia and yellow stone fruit mingle with whiffs of hazelnut on this stunning white. Elegantly structured, the radiant palate has depth and complexity thanks to volcanic soils and 100-year-old vines, delivering apricot, ripe pear and tangy mineral notes evoking oyster shell before a white-almond finish. Hold for even more complexity. Drink through 2026. de Grazia Imports, LLC. Cellar Selection.
Pieropan 2016 Calvarino (Soave Classico); $40, 96 points. Lemon drop candy, apricot, crushed stone, bitter almond and beeswax are just some of the aromas you’ll find on this intriguing, classy wine, the 45th anniversary edition of what is one of Italy’s most iconic whites. The savory, elegant palate is focused and bright, delivering ripe white stone fruit, citrus, tangy mineral and a hint of baking spice. It’s impeccably balanced, with bright acidity. Enjoy now or hold for even more complexity. Drink through 2031. LUX Wines. Cellar Selection.
Balestri Valda 2016 Vigneto Sengialta (Soave Classico); $20, 93 points. Spanish broom, acacia, beeswax and mature yellow stone fruit are just some of the aromas you’ll find on this intriguing wine. On the rounded, enveloping palate, fresh acidity underscores mature peach, honeyed almond and tangy mineral notes evoking saline. Drink through 2024. Conexport Italy. Editors’ Choice.
Inama 2017 Vigneti di Carbonare (Soave Classico); $28, 93 points. Hailing from one of the denomination’s most famed vineyard areas, this has gently enticing scents of field flower, lemon drop and wet stone. Reflecting the nose, the linear palate delivers yellow apple, pear, citrus and tangy mineral notes set against bright acidity. A white-almond note lingers on the close. Dalla Terra Winery Direct. Editors’ Choice.
Cantina Martinelli 2017 Pantagruele (Soave); $26, 92 points. Left on its lees for 16 months, this wine is full of character, opening with heady aromas of citrus blossom, white stone fruit and slightly balsamic notes of eucalyptus. On the savory, enveloping palate, tangy acidity lifts mature apricot, lemon drop and golden apple before a honeyed almond close. It has surprising freshness for the hot vintage. Scuola di Vino. Editors’ Choice.
Sandro de Bruno 2016 Soave Colli Scaligeri; $20, 92 points. Intense aromas evoking Spanish broom, citrus and wet stone permeate the glass. Savory, vibrant and restrained, it shows Soave’s serious side, delivering yellow pear, golden apple and Meyer lemon. Notes of flinty mineral and a bitter-almond close impart surprising depth—a great showing. Vignaioli Selection. Editors’ Choice.
Gianni Tessari 2018 Monte Tenda (Soave Classico); $23, 91 points. White spring flower and white orchard fruit aromas mingle with whiffs of beeswax on this fresh, polished white. The lovely palate shows ripe yellow apple, white peach and citrus zest before an almond and graphite finish. Zeman Global Selections.
Fattori 2018 Motto Piane (Soave); $24, 90 points. Yellow spring flower, apricot and dried herb aromas form the nose. On the racy palate, a honeyed note accents yellow apple, pear and bitter almond before a savory saline close. Zerbina Imports.
Cantina di Soave 2017 Rocca Sveva Ciondola (Soave Classico Superiore); $20, 89 points. Aromas of spring field flower and white stone fruit lead the nose. On the round palate, you’ll find ripe apple, white peach and a hint of lemon drop candy before a white almond close. Freixenet Mionetto USA.