Back on March 3, 2013 we blogged about Valpolicella. Much of the modern history of Soave parallels Valpolicella. Original Valpolicella and Soave production regions were hillside vineyards which were greatly expanded in 1968 for commercial reasons, not so coincidentally when each received their DOC classification. Both expansions were downward into river basin flatlands which served to provide a steady stream of plonk Valpolicella and Soave for the mass markets of America. It would be a full twenty years before a correction would be made when Pinot Grigio rose to assume the mantle as the new default Italian white wine for Americans.
Soave was first legally defined in 1927 as the 1,100 hectares of hillside vineyards around the town of Soave outside of Verona, Italy. After World War II when American GIs stationed in Europe returned home, their new wine tastes resulted in a flood of Soave amongst other European types. The 1968 vineyard expansion grew the Soave region to 4,000 hectares but the flatlands juice was a far cry from the cause celebre of the earlier era. Fully eighty percent of the Soave on American store shelves was privately labelled by cooperatives in Italy and, in time and with consolidation, one cooperative has now become the sole player responsible for that eighty percent.
For most of the time I have been in the wine business, Soave has been a thin, insipid, neutral, acidic wine, the massmarketed plonk mentioned above, made from overproduced yields from the flatlands. In the 1970s this version of Soave was actually the most popular Italian wine in America, even more popular than Chianti. Garganega, a late ripening grape with a thick skin to ward off pests and disease, finds a more ideal environment in the Dolomite hillside (Classico) vineyards above the Adige river plain. There the grapevine struggles in chalk, clay, and limestone alluvial soils of decomposed volcanic rock, a far less fertile environment than the river basin plains. There the thick Garganega grapeskins thrive by storing atmospheric heat throughout the summer to magnify the grape ripening process.
In my research for this article I found one more quote worth sharing: "Italians don't drink Pinot Grigio". And by the way, we should have a stack of Riondo Soave Excelsa here by the weekend priced at $10/btl! Maybe, just maybe, we'll open one up Friday night in combination with reds from California, Spain, and Italy. Please join us.