Monday, November 28, 2011

Wining and Blogging in the Soave Region, Italy

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Fellow Blogger and Tour Organizer/Guide Elisabetta Tosi in Soave

When I used to live in Zagreb, Croatia, we basically had two options for going back to Germany to visit the family and friends: via Austria or via Italy. We would alternate and take advantage of getting to know different regions that lie between Zagreb in Croatia and Frankfurt am Main in Germany. On the Italian route, Venice was always a place high on the list for possible stops. And this was the region, where, among other wines, a Soave was often served, when you had lunch or dinner at a Trattoria, a Pizzeria or an Osteria. I was therefore very happy, when I heard of the option of a 1-day trip to the Soave region in the context of the European Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 in Brescia in northern Italy and immediately booked the trip: Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

This time, it was 1-day trip guided by Elisabetta Tosi . We visited 3 wineries – Balestri Valda, Coffele and Cantina Sociale di Soave and met a group of winemaker – Soavecru - in the Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone, where we had lunch with them and tasted their wines.

The Soave Zone

Soave is a white wine produced in the surrounding area of the fascinating middle age villages of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone, between the picturesque cities of Venice and Verona in the eastern part of the province of Verona in Italy’s Veneto region.

The majority of the vineyards are in the hills. Beautiful centuries-old castles, churches, bell towers, and aristocratic villas are all part of the rich history and traditions of this area, and indicative of the region’s principal product, Soave wines. There are about 3000 growers and 120 wineries, ranging from boutique producers making wine from tiny plots to a few large cooperatives, which make credible wine at attractive prices.

Pictures: Images of Soave

Many of the vineyards are comprised of basalt rock or volcanic stone, which explains the minerality in the wines, while other sites are more dominated by calcaire (limestone). Given the excellent drainage of hillside vineyards, yields are naturally low, which provides more deeply concentrated wines which can age for many years.

Soave has developed a reputation of producing simple, crisp wines which pair very well with Italian but also other food. Soave wines tend to have low acid. It is one of the top selling wines in Italy, exported all over the world.

The prevailing grape is the Garganega, the fifth most planted white grape in Italy. Soave must contain at least 70 percent of Garganega, and the rest can be Trebbiano, but Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco are also allowed.

Classification of Soave Wines

All Soave wines – as all Italian wines – belong to one of the following 4 quality levels.

(1) Vino da Tavola (VDT): A very basic wine, made for local consumption; the bottle label does not indicate the region or grape variety. This is the wine you typically get served in a Pizzeria or Trattoria in Italy, when you ask for the “house wine”. Simple, cheap and decent. I can tell, sitting late in the evening at a Piazza in Soave and eating Pizza with a Vino da Tavola, served in a 1 liter jug, is just great.

(2) Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Wines that are considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which do not conform to DOC and DOCG regulations. In the case of Soave, the label would only indicate the region, Veneto. So, you would not recognize it as a Soave. Sometimes, these are premium wines of winemakers who dropped the DOC/DOCG designation and instead carry the broader Veneto IGT designation, allowing them to try to improve quality by using nontraditional grapes, blends, viticultural practices or vinification techniques that are not allowed under the DOC and DOCG standards.

Pictures: The Towns of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone

(3) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Soave is currently the largest DOC appellation in Italy, with 15,500 acres of vines.

(4) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). DOCG wines are a tick higher in terms of quality requirements than DOC wines (maximum yield for example), which is the highest category in Italy's wine-classification system. About 13,000 acres of vine of the 15,500 acres of the DOC appellation also qualify for DOCG. In the Soave zone, there are 2 DOCG appellations: The Soave Superiore DOCG and Recioto di Soave DOCG.

The Soave Superiore DOCG production zone is in the hillside sites, outside of the communes of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. If they are aged for a minimum of 2 years, they are labeled as riserva. The Soave DOC is a more basic wine, whereas the Soave Classico DOC can only come from the Soave Classico DOC can only come from Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone communes. The Soave zone produces approximately 40 million bottles of Soave DOC wine every year and 15 million Soave Classico DOC wine.

Second, there is Recioto di Soave DOCG, which can come as Bianco (normale), Classico (from the classical zone) and Spumante. These are sweet-style straw wines, where the grapes are dried indoors in open plastic containers for from four to six months, during which they loose over 50% of their moisture, followed by a long, slow fermentation, often in small barrels.

Straw wines are typically sweet wines, capable of long life, but do not have to be sweet. For example, the straw wines from the blend of red wine grapes typical of Valpolicella can come as dry or sweet: If fermentation is complete, the result is a (dry) Amarone della Valpolicella; if fermentation is incomplete, the result is a (sweet) Recioto della Valpolicella. Fermentation may stop for several reasons including high alcohol.

Balestri Valda

Our first stop was at Balestri Valda, just over the hill from Soave, a small family estate, founded and managed by Guido Rizzotto. The total production is about 50,000 bottles. We were received by Guido’s daughter, Laura Rizzotto. Balestri Valda has 20 hectares of land planted mainly with Garganega (70%) and Trebbiano di Soave.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Laura Rizzotto from Balestri Valda


Our next stop was Coffele, a 30 hectares producer. In 1971 Giovanna Visco and her husband Giuseppe decided to retire from teaching to resuscitate her family’s estate, a property that had been dormant for over 30 years. Their vineyards are at high elevation (200-350m above sea level) on a hillside near Castelcerino in the heart of the traditional Soave zone. Today, Coffele is run by Albert Coffele (winemaking) and his sister Chiara (marketing).

Picture: Coffele

At Coffele, we had chance to observe very closely, how the Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region, is made and to taste a variety of wines from all over the Soave region.

Recioto di Soave of Coffele

Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region produced solely from Garganega grapes that have been dried for several months before fermentation. As explained above, the grapes loose over 50% of their moisture during the drying period; this is then followed by a long, slow fermentation, often in small barrels. Straw wines are typically sweet wines, capable of long life, but do not have to be sweet. Recioto di Soave are redolent of apricot and honey flavors and often have a light nuttiness to them.

Pictures: How Recioto di Soave of Coffele is Being Made

Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone: Tasting with an Association of Small Producers - Soavecru

We then stopped in Monteforte d’Alpone for lunch with the Soavecru members and a tasting of their wines. Soavecru is an association of 16 small producers. We had a chance to meet them, and taste their wines. I talked a bit with Allessandro Danese from Corte Moschina. Corte Moshina produces about 80.000 bottles of wine annually, of which about 50% is exported to the US.

Pictures: At the Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone with the Soavecru Winemakers, including Allessandro Danese from Corte Moschina.

The time we spent with the Soavecru producers was exceptionally memorable, but several things stick out. First, when we entered the amazing Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone, we were greeted by fantastic piano music. Second, I had several plates of risotto, which was of a taste that at least I do not get often.

Cantina di Soave

We finished our tour in Soave in a most beautiful winery: Borgo Rocca Sveva, owned by the big cooperative Cantina di Soave. Here, visited the botanical garden and tasted other Soave wines. Soave is a cute little town with a beautiful castello – a postcard picture, when you arrive from the Autostrada.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with winemakers Giancarlo Piubelli and Luigino Bertolazzi

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  1. Great post, and beautiful pics! Good job Christian, thank you!

  2. Hi Christian:
    A wonderful post. It was a great pleasure to read it and remember how good was the trip we made. :)