Soave: the black&white book (day 2)

“Soave is like an open book with a white page (calcareous soil) and a black page (volcanic soil),” says Lucia while preparing the blind tasting session of the 2023, 2022, 2021, and 2020 vintages in one of the beautiful rooms at the Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave e Recioto di Soave. We have been talking about wine since our cup of coffee, and now, right in front of a big map of the wine area, it’s easier for me to get a better understanding of the appellation.

The Soave area in a nutshell

The Soave region spans five different valleys Marcellise, Mezzane, Illasi, Tramigna and Alpone all have some limestone presence on the hills closest to the rivers.
When talking about Soave, two main macro areas are considered along the Castelvetro fault line which splits the area in two: the white limestone/calcareous west and the black volcanic east side.

Taking a closer look at the map one can see specifically four type of soils.

On the eastern side is tha Basalt/Volcani. The volcanic soils might be sandier soils created by volcanic explosions of 65 million years ago when the Alps where created or the harder basaltic octagonal shaped rocks created 40 million years ago during the volcanic explosions occurred under the tropical sea present in the area back then.

Another type of soil are the Active calcareous soils but also the mixed soils of the plains (mainly along the Alpone river) where the volcanic sands meet silt and clay offering some very fertile and mineral reach soils.

Going west the landscape changes drastically becoming lower in altitude with broader horizons and no volcanos, the Limestone plains

The Soave wines

The vineyard area covers roughly over 7000 hectares which is similar to the size of Valpolicella or Chianti Classico. 

Here people have been making wine for millennia as some documents of the VI century BC show but the success of contemporary Soave is possible to be traced in the Napoleonic land registries in 1816. Then the appellation started to creat the first boundaries in 1931, followed by the arrival of the DOC in 1968 and the first DOCG in Veneto with Recioto di Soave in 1998. 

In 2001 the appellation welcomed the arrival of the Soave Superiore, which from 2019 can also bear a more precise definition of the area of production with 33 different UGAs (Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive). A sort of a cru system which has the purpose to indicate with more precision a specific vineyard area, a sort of “Climat” or Cru system. 

It is still early stages for this new appellation system but it is interesting for me to start exploring the area and taste the wines with a more precise level of attention. The 33 UGA display different characteristic in relationship to soil | altitude | climate | aspect.

Finally is worth a mention the GIAHS (Globally Important Agricolture Heritage Systems) recognition awarded to Soave. There’s only 50 sites in the world of which two only are in Italy and Soave is the only wine related one. 

Gini Winery

After a delightful morning of tasting and learning, we hopped into the car to visit one of the “Maestros” of Soave: Sandro Gini of the Gini Winery. My last encounter with Sandro was two decades ago, back when I was living in London. It was a joyous reunion.

Sandro has been a trailblazer, not just for Soave but for the entire Italian wine industry. In the early 1980s, he embarked on groundbreaking research into the microbiological life in wine, focusing particularly on yeasts. His key discovery was that yeasts primarily reside in the cellar—on walls, barrels, and tools—rather than in the field. He isolated over 100 indigenous yeast strains, finding that some produced over 70 grams of sulfur dioxide. This led to his first vintage of sulfite-free Soave in 1985.

As Sandro drove Alice, Lucia, and me to the Salvarenza vineyard—the first in Soave with inter-row grassing—he shared these insights. His warm personality and generous spirit shone through as he navigated his 1980s turquoise 4×4 Fiat Panda up the steep volcanic hills. The ascent was nerve-wracking, but we felt immense relief when Sandro stopped the car. The ladies and I are relieved when Sandro stops the Panda as it really looked like we were gonna till over! This is how steep these hills look like and it is the reason why people here take about heroic viticulture as everything has to be done by hand and on foot! 

From this area Sandro produces the reactive and mineral zippy Soave Frosca and the rounder and creamier Soave Salvarenza. He is proud of his Pergola trained Garganega vines (this training system by the way is the most widespread system on the est side of Soave) which none of them has never been uprooted. 

Gini wines

We finish our afternoon together with a mini-vertical tasting of La Frosca from 2003 till 2021.

The wines always show a flinty and candid ginger continuum along the 20 years. A touch of smoke, almonds and a mineral vibrant palate. The 2003 had a the oiliness and the reaches like a great Chenin Blanc (or maybe I should have said that a great Chenin would resemble like a Soave).  I loved the austere behavior of 2021 with a fantastic alcoholic balance and a great life ahead, while 2016 was tasting extremely mineral and maybe even more youthful then 2021. 2012 was my wine of the day with some star fruit notes, vanilla, gun flint and a citrus festa with a round and yet crunch palate. 

As evening approached, we took a leisurely stroll through the center of town, reflecting on the day’s incredible experiences and absorbing all the knowledge we had gained. 

Suavia Winery

It’s been raining all night, and the downpour continues as we get into the car to visit the Suavia Winery. We drive 15 minutes from Soave, winding our way up into the hills.

The village of Fittà, perched on a volcanic hill and now recognized as an important Unità Geografica Aggiuntiva (UGA) of Soave, has seen little change from the early 1800s until the early 1980s. It was then that Giovanni and Rosetta Tessieri revitalized the Suavia Winery. In 1982, the Tessieri family began bottling their Soave, marking a new chapter in the winery’s history. Today, the winery is in the capable hands of the Tessari sisters—Mari, Valentina, and Alessandra—who oversee agriculture, oenology, and marketing, respectively.

Their simplicity, humility, and hidden energy are contagious, and all these qualities are reflected in their wines.

“Are you sure you want to go into the vineyards with this rain?” I am kindly asked at the Consorzio. “I am sure,” I reply, eager to immerse myself in this stunning region.

When we meet Mari Tessari, she invites us straight into her jeep, equipping us with fancy shoe bags for the mud. Mari drives and talks non-stop, each sentence brimming with important insights. The winery has transitioned to organic practices, and despite the challenging season, they spend a lot of time in the field. Even on a rainy day, the landscape is breathtaking, offering views all the way to the Colli Euganei.

Suavia has owned a crucial vineyard on one of the grand crus of the area, Monte Carbonare, since 1945. This vineyard is now a recognized UGA and borders another significant UGA, the colder, north-facing Monte Foscarino. From our vantage point, we can also see the beautiful Castellaro, another important UGA.

As we step out of the car, a strong wind blasts us alongside the cold rain. Mari remarks, “It’s the small Dolomites that bring this cold wind, allowing our vines to breathe even during the summer. Look, the black stones are the result of underwater volcanic explosions, while the red ones were born with oxygen.”

We enter Massifitti, the Trebbiano -crazy low yields- vineyard with only 30ql/ha, which Suavia has decided to bottle separately from Garganega, releasing a true masterpiece.

Suavia wines

  • Massifitti 2020 Mineral, smokey, with a refined umami and sea breeze touch. Some green traces with a smoke whiff and a white sweet fruit presence.
  • Massifitti 2011 This older vintage has an anice and a ginger spiciness with a sweeter apricot fruit driven character and a delightful mineral complexity reminiscent of pure hot water spa water with a wild fennel and citrus complexity. 

I love the passion these sisters pour into their business. They are now collaborating with Prof. Lorenzini to study different clones and with Prof. Ugliano to explore the geological diversity of their vineyards and its impact on aromatic profiles.

Back in the warm tasting room, we sample wines from the different UGAs of Soave, all produced with 12 months of lees contact and no oak. I get the feeling I am in the perfect place to unravel a few of Soave’s mysteries.

  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Castellaro 2020 A tropical energy with papaya, guava and so much citrus white pepper and salinity
  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Tremenalto 2020 Almond and tangerine with a herbaceus and mountain flowers charter. Sweeter on the plate with a zippy finish but still a little too young. 
  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Fittà 2020 Here we have a Japanese katana with a really reactive acidity, so much lemon and lime. An uncompromising white which shows some acacia honey, orange blossoms and ginger. It feels like it is gonna age forever. 
  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Carbonare 2021 Extremely mineral, with a seducing match-head complexity and a sweet and savory palate. Needs time but this is pure magic.
  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Carbonare 2017 Great white wine tannins with some more balsamic herbs, green notes, and a citric complexity with a rounder finish non the palate. 
  • Suavia Soave DOC Classico Carbonare 2001 It feels like this wine has so much aging potential. Almost as if across this vertical tasting the main message was: gotta wait to truly enjoy the power of Soave. Over twenty years and no traces of decay. Matter of fact the wine is blossoming with great pink pepper, bergamot, white peaches, almonds and wild roses with the usual and unmistakable smokey, flinty finish. 

It’s time to head back home, bidding farewell to the Soave sisters, the budding vines, and this remarkable wine region. I leave with a promise to return soon, eager to further explore and savor the wonders of Soave.