Thursday, January 16, 2014

Soave, Garganega, and the IGT Classification, Part 1

After setting up a fairly decent lineup of reds for last Friday's tasting, we threw in a ringer as an afterthought.  We chilled down a bottle of Riondo Soave Excelsa which had just come in the door hours before show time.  We thought it would be a decent if ordinary $10 white warm-up wine.  How it so overperformed that evening prompts this post today.

The primary grape of Soave (So-AH-Ve) is Garganega (Gar-GAH-Neh-Gah) which typically makes up about 70% of the blend.  In order to further understand the wine's makeup we need to look at Tuscany, the home of Chianti, which is popularly perceived as the red wine counterpart of Soave.  In Tuscany the winemakers rebelled in the 1980s against over-regulation by creating the Super Tuscan category.  Basically they threw the rulebook out the window and made the kind of wines they wanted to.  As a result those properties lost their DOC or DOCG rating by not toeing the line on grape types and production methods.  In order to give those properties credit for the obvious wine quality in the new creations (and to cover its backside) the government created the IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica) category which is less strict than the top two categories but separates the new stuff from ordinary table wine.

In 2002 in the Soave region the government did it again only this time the objection of the local industry had more to do with vineyard practices and the newly designated DOCG and Classico Soave regions codified in the new legislation.  The Soave properties responded by sacrificing their DOC and DOCG ratings and going with an IGT Soave classification and then doubled down on the issue by adjusting the grape compositions like the Super Tuscan producers had done earlier.  Those Soave properties believed to be DOC or DOCG quality added up to 30% Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio) and Chardonnay to the up to 70% Garganega with minor local varieties allowed in the blend up to five percent.  These properties then expelled both Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano Toscano (Ugni Blanc), two grapes that really added nothing to the quality of the wine, thereby improving the product by subtraction.  In fact, Soave may now be 100% Garganega which is obviously the variety that makes Soave what it is anyway.

While little known to us stateside, Garganega is the the sixth most widely planted grape in Italy and the ampelographers there have determined that is genetically related to seven other Italian whites.  It's a chicken-egg dilemma as to which grape came first and parented the others so, more or less officially, origins of these related grapes are undetermined, meaning they go back a long ways in time.  The character of Garganega is what makes it noteworthy.  It profiles flavors of lemon, almond, and spice, with more nuanced smoke with salt and bitterness in a crisp, dry, but moderately hefty package.  "Weight and elegance" is the description I read that best sums the wine up for me or as someone else said, "Chardonnay with almond".

Please join us Friday, January 17th, as we taste reds from Italy and Spain, three from California, and a white Gascogne.  We start at 5pm.  Please join us.

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