This is the first in a two-part series on the wines of the Veneto.
The Republic of Venice, through commerce and conquest, flourished for nearly eleven-hundred years! From the late seventh-century until its collapse in the late eighteenth century the Venetian city-state was one of great power and influence. Its strategic position at the intersection of the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas thrust it into a pivotal role as maritime gatekeeper between the Ottoman Empire to the east and the great kingdoms of Europe to the west.
Venetian dominance as a sea-faring colossus enriched the republic, fostering opulent architecture the likes of St. Mark’s Basilica, the edifices of the Grand Canal or the Doge’s Palace as well as a magnificent array of arched bridges spanning a seemingly interminable course of glistening canals.
and Carlo Goldoni. Celebrated painters like Tintoretto, Veronese, Giorgione and the inimitable Titian produced breathtakingly colorful masterpieces that captivated the imagination of Renaissance Europe!
Hegemony over a vast stretch of the Veneto, the lush agricultural interior heartland bounded by the Po River, Lake Garda, and the foothills of the Alps was also key to the republic’s power. Vitis vinifera flourished here as well! And, as with many of Italy’s prime vineyard areas the wine trade, often established by Greek or Etruscan colonizers, would ultimately be institutionalized and methodically exploited by the Romans.
The Veneto today is a thriving, world-class viticultural region. Here as elsewhere in Italy, wine law classifies the highest qualitative levels as DOC and DOCG respectively. Districts accorded these designations must adhere to strict parameters governing aging requirements, types of authorized varieties or yields in tons per acre as examples. In the Veneto there are 25 DOC and 11 DOCG which places it at the very top of the quality pyramid for all of Italy!
The region is primarily known for its white wines which represent over 55% of production. And, in the province of Verona, Soave is the eloquent emissary for some of the best whites the Veneto has to offer.
Soave – from grape to glass!
The Soave DOC designation is more generic than that of Soave Classico DOC whose wines are generally more complex and of higher quality. The Classico zone lies between the town of Soave to the west and that of Montforte d’Alpone to the east. Classico wines produced from the limestone vineyards near Soave enjoy better heat radiance. They are generally more fruit-forward than those from the more volcanic soils near Montforte d’Alpone which are typically steelier in character. Minimum alcohol is 10.5% with yields restricted to 14 tons per hectare.
For Soave Superiore DOCG, 11% minimum alcohol is required with yields limited to 10 tons per hectare. Whereas most all Soave Superiore DOCG is
produced within the Classico zone, Soave Colli Scaligeri Superiore DOCG (named for the noble Veronese Scaligeri family) is an exception to this, yet it is held to the same strict production requirements.
For all three tiers the grape variety, Garganega must comprise 70% of the
blend. The remainder can include up to 30% Trebbiano di Soave. Trebbiano Toscano can be used as well but only to a maximum of 15%. For Soave Superiore DOCG, Pinot bianco, Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave round out the additional 30%.
Typically vinified dry using stainless steel or neutral wood vessels, Soave’s classic signature is one where notes of lemon zest and almond intermingle with traces of minerals backed by bright acidity – a delightful partner to shell fish risotto or sage fettucine.
A 4th-generation standard bearer here is Pieropan – known for his elegant Soave wines. I recently revisited this producer with his 2010 Soave Classico DOCG. On the nose, beautiful white flowers, nectarine and hints of fresh almonds join with wet stone and subtle mineral notes to make for a lovely aromatic medley. The palate is bright and refreshing with medium acidity and nice texture. This is a beautiful apéritif as well as a perfect accompaniment to shellfish, hard-rind cheeses or egg pasta with shaved pecorino and morels. It is a wonderful initiation to Soave for around $14 per bottle.
Concentrated dessert wines of opulent texture and extremely seductive honeyed, floral and citrus aromatics are also produced here using an age-old process to be explored at length in part 2. They require a minimum of 14% alcohol and can be labeled or di Soave DOCGRecioto di Soave Classico DOCG according to their production zone of origin. In addition, small quantities of sparkling Recioto di Soave Spumante DOCG are bottled.
Soave had been enjoyed for centuries when in 1515 Titian completed his celebrated and tension-filled canvas Il Bravo (that is part of a wonderful exhibit I recently viewed at the De Young museum in San Francisco).
With it, the Venetian Renaissance master interprets the story of what certain scholars suggest is the assault of Bacchus by an assassin in the service of Pentheus, king of Thebes, who was bent on halting the propagation of the vinous diety’s orgiastic cult.
Bacchus 1, Pentheus 0 – who’s keeping score?
To be continued…
Slave to the grape – worse fates there have been!