Things aren’t always as they seem. The mere mention of certain wine regions makes us cringe, right? But often you can find some good wines even in regions with bad reputations. And, because the good wines are tainted by the region’s reputation, they can be a good value.
Which brings us to Soave. Soave produces oceans of inexpensive, tasteless white wine. So, if your reaction was . . . no thanks, I'll have a beer, read on. One Soave zone produces some really nice, good value wines. Unfortunately, it's the 95 percent of Soave wines that gives the rest a bad reputation . . .
The key to Soave is knowing where to look, and that’s really easy. Soave is located in the Veneto region of Northeast Italy, near Lake Garda (Valpolicella and Bardolino are nearby). Its wines are made primarily from the Garganega grape, which can be concentrated, with nice lemon and almond notes. It has four zones, but only one of these produces good quality wines.
- The key is to stick with bottles labeled “Soave Classico.” This is the “real” Soave. The vineyards are on good hillside locations, and the grape yields are limited (lower yields generally mean better quality). The wines are made from a minimum of 70 percent Garganega, and while winemakers can blend certain other white grapes, the better ones stick with 100 percent Garganega.
- Unfortunately, in 1968 Soave was greatly expanded beyond the original “Classico” zone by the creation of the “Soave DOC.” Bluntly, the goal was quantity over quality. This zone is less suited to vineyards, and there is no meaningful restrictions on yield. Additionally, almost 80 percent of the wine is produced by a local cooperative with little focus on quality. Thus, the Soave DOC wines have a deservedly bad reputation. By the way, it's also useful to look for "Classico" in other Italian regions, such as Chianti, as that will also indicate an original production zone before the region was expanded into less favorable areas.
- The Soave Superiore DOCG was supposed to be a step up in quality, but that has not turned out to be the case. These wines are from vineyards outside the Classico region, with relatively high yields, and generally are produced by the local cooperative.
- There’s also a Soave Colli Scaligeri DOC – it’s made on the hillsides outside of the Classico zone, and also falls short on quality.
Our wine of the week is a 2018 Pra Soave Classico “Otto” ($17 retail). First, let’s clear up the “Otto” part – that’s the name of the owner’s dog – a Border Collie. The wine is from a well-regarded producer in the Classico zone. It’s made from 100 percent Garganega, and aged for six months in stainless steel - no oak here.
- Otto has a bright straw color (the wine, not the dog - it’s a border collie with black and white highlights and distinctive barnyard notes). The wine has aromas of nectarine, lemon peel and honeysuckle, with a hint of vanilla. It's a medium bodied wine, with bright acidity, lemon and ripe apricot flavors and minerality, with a nice, long finish and a relatively low alcohol level of 12.5 percent.
- It makes a great aperitif, and pairs well with sushi and light starters, fresh cow's milk or goat's cheese, Parma ham, and pasta or rice-based fish dishes.
- The bottom line: it’s a very nice wine and a good value.