Who’d like a nice glass of Soave? If this question prompted you to roll your eyes, you may want to consider an attitude adjustment.
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Yes, it’s true that this white wine made in the Veneto region, in the hills above Verona in Northeastern Italy, earned itself a rather lackluster reputation over recent generations. Even its Italian name, Soave, seems as if it might have been dreamed up by a marketing team working with a focus group. Although Soave’s primary grape variety is the honest Italian Garganega, the region’s producers chose a name, based on a similar word in English, Spanish, and French, that translates as market-ready ideas like suave, soft, or sweet. Curiously, none of those terms really describes the wine very well, as it’s usually crisp, dry, and at least moderately acidic.
Nevertheless, as world interest in wine dramatically increased during the 1970s and 1980s, Veneto producers saw opportunity in the rising demand. They cranked up production, lobbied for regulatory changes, and won permission to dramatically expand the boundaries of their regions and to increase the permissible yields of fruit. In a market dominated by large cooperative and corporate producers, they poured out a sea of lackluster, industrial-style wine that was drinkable at best but certainly forgettable.
The result? They sold a lot of cheap wine, and they lost the world’s respect. Remember the low-price, widely distributed Bolla? Yep, that’s where Soave went.
But as so often happens in world regions better known for mass produced, low-price wines – we’re looking at you, Beaujolais – a handful of quality and small-family producers fought to restore the wine’s reputation with well-made wines produced from carefully nurtured vineyards.
Following a series of often politically charged debates in the early 2000s, quality Soave producers fought off industry efforts to allow still greater vineyard yields. They gained permission to add non-traditional grapes to round out the Garganega blend, and in more recent years, achieved further regulatory tweaks: The wine must contain at least 70% Garganega now; the use of the “lesser” grapes Trebbiano Toscano and Pinot Bianco is forbidden but Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio) are now allowed to constitute up to 30 percent of the blend.
Nowadays top Soave producers like today’s featured Pieropan and Gini, Pieropan, Inama, and Cantine Pra make high-quality Soaves that can stand competition with quality whites from around the world, and that often command prices in the $20s up to, for rare single-vineyard bottlings, the $70s and more.
But here’s good news: Yes, you can still find Bolla Soave, at an average Wine-Searcher.com retail price of just $7. But you can also find a bunch more, some of it more than persuasive, for well under $20. Today’s featured wine, Tenuta Santa Maria 2018 “Lepiga” Soave, cost me $16.99 and is frankly worth more.
It is a 100% single-vineyard Garganega from 60-plus-year-old vines in the Bertani family’s Lepia vineyard at the Tenuta Colognola ai Colli, an ancient property – once a Roman centurion’s farm – that now houses a 15th century villa. Careful management ensures high-density vine planting and low yields, then brings in the ripe grapes in three separate harvests: the first early harvest to preserve acidity, the second a bit later for optimal ripeness, and the third late in the harvest season to add richness and weight to the wine. To build in rich flavors, the wine makers allow brief contact with the grape skins before fermentation; vinify the wine in stainless steel, then leave it on the fine lees of spent yeast for three months.
My tasting notes are below. I think you’re really going to like this wine.
For more on this happy evolution of Soave back to a quality Italian white wine, make yourself at home on Wine-Searcher.com’s Soave information page. There’s another good Soave overview in this 2017 Decanter article, Showcasing Soave – great value whites.
Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.
Today’s Tasting Report
Tenuta Santa Maria 2018 “Lepiga” Soave ($16.99)
Made from the Veronese Garganega variety, this attractive Northern Italian white is a light greenish color, a distinct brassy hue. Its light but delicious aromas speak of orange peel and lemon alongside subtle pear and melon scents. Its dry, pleasantly acidic flavor fills the mouth with gentle mixed-fruit flavors that follow the nose, with hints of fresh herb and limestone minerality with light 12.5% alcohol. Remarkably, there’s a distinct whiff of salt – a common descriptor for Soave – in a long, snappy finish. U.S. importers: Indigenous Selections LLC, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Skurnik Wines & Spirits, NYC, and other regional importers. (Oct. 13, 2020)
FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests enjoying it as an aperitif or pairing it with appetizers, raw fish including sushi, and white meat. We found it food-friendly and versatile, and enjoyed it over a couple of meals with food as diverse as Yucatan cochinita pibil and nopales to meatloaf and fried chicken from a local soul food storefront.
WHEN TO DRINK: Soave is not a wine made for aging, so I’d recommend enjoying it rather than putting it away in a cellar, but It should be fine for a few years assuming reasonably good storage conditions.
My $17 local price is close enough to Wine-Searcher.com’s $16 average U.S. retail to keep me happy. Considering today’s prices and, in particular, new U.S. tariffs on European wines, it’s a decent value.
The winery offers an extensive fact sheet in English at this link. (It appears to be down for an update today, but check in later for an informative page.)
For more about the wine and winery, see this page from another importer, Skurnik Wines & Spirits
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Tenuta Santa Maria “Lepiga” Soave on Wine-Searcher.com.
Follow this Wine-Searcher link to learn more about Soave and browse dozens of other wines from the region.
TALK ABOUT ITALIAN WHITES:
Join this month’s Wine Focus conversation, Fall-anghina and Italian whites, in our WineLovers Discussion Group.
More affordable wines
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!
- La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
- La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
- Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
- Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
- Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
- d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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