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Is Soave Classico Finally Making Its Big Comeback?

Winemakers in Italy are reviving Garganega, and it’s paying off

Janice Williams By February 18, 2022
Soave, Italy surrounded by vineyards and its famous medieval castle
Soave, Italy surrounded by vineyards and its famous medieval castle. Photo by Isaac74/iSock.

Scott Ades was sitting at a sunny backyard patio at a Brooklyn restaurant with a friend, reading the tiny wine list — only four white wines were available by the glass. He opted for a glass of orange wine and his guest, Riesling

And then he noticed what everybody else in the restaurant was ordering. 

“We just sat there and watched as not only glasses of Soave Classico came out to all the tables, but full bottles of Inama Soave Classico,” says Ades, the CEO of Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which imports Inama, the winery owned and operated by the family of Ades’ guest, Alessio Inama. 

Some 15 years ago, people wouldn’t be caught dead ordering glasses of Soave Classico, let alone bottles. But seeing young people enjoy glass after glass validates what Ades and Alessio Inama already knew: Soave Classico was making a comeback.

What is Soave?

The Soave appellation lies east of Verona, in the volcanic hillsides of Veneto. It’s a region with a rich and ancient history, whose native grape Garganega dates back to the Roman Empire

Soave wines can include Verdicchio or Chardonnay, but by law, Garganega grapes must make at least 70% of the blend.

“It’s the queen of our white grapes, and, if cultivated well, it is a very long-lived vine,” says Sandro Gini, the president of the Consorzio Soave, the union of vignerons.

Although based on one grape, the region produces a range of styles, from the sparkling Soave Spumante to the sweet Recioto Soave, made using the appassimento technique, where grapes are dried before being vinified. Then there are the dry wines from the Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which are classified under three categories: Soave, Soave Classico, and Soave Colli Scaligeri — although the latter never quite landed with American drinkers.

workers in Soave Classico taking a break from harvest

Workers in Soave Classico taking a break from harvest. Photo courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave e Recioto di Soave.

Soave DOC, the most abundant style, is also the simplest. Fresh and easy-drinking, it’s grown outside of the Classico zone, within the plains. Soave Classico DOC is made with grapes grown on the volcanic hills or calcareous soils in some of the best vineyard areas of the region. Grape yields are lower, and the wines have greater character, with stone fruit, citrus, and saline nuances and a mineral texture.

Soave Superior DOCG wines express the highest quality of the Soave Classico and hill area, notes Gini. 

In 2019, 33 vineyard areas became official UGAs, or unità geografiche aggiuntive, to help further highlight the styles of wines in Soave and the best growing zones, and they can be added to the label; this means wine lovers can choose the 

Efforts like this, coupled with a renewed focus on quality, have led to improvements in Soave. Consumer interest has followed. However, that wasn’t always the case.

Past versus present

The 1960s saw the decline of Soave. Winemaking expanded beyond the hillsides into flat, fertile lands. Grapes grown in the sandy plains were great for producing high yields, but the wines lacked flavor and complexity. Garganega was used for bulk wines that were often advertised on TV and radio commercials for mass-produced brands.

The wines tasted like nothing in particular but were easy to drink when served cold. Soon, Soave became known for cheap wine and fell out of fashion, making it hard for quality Soave producers to get any attention.

Gargenera grapes harvested for Soave Classico

Gargenera grapes being harvested for Soave Classico. Photo courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave e Recioto di Soave.

“I remember my father telling me that selling Soave wine in the ’90s was impossible. People were like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to put Soave on my wine list. This is a serious restaurant.’ It didn’t matter how good the wine was because the reputation was so bad,” says Inama, referencing his father Stefano Inama. “But that just gave some of the winemakers here a greater determination to change the view of Soave.”

Inama and Pieropan are among those leading the charge, having released smaller production wines that have received top scores and reviews from critics in recent times. This has sparked a renaissance of sorts, with more winemakers following suit and dedicating themselves to making wines of quality.

What’s fueling the change?

“Inama has seen solid growth over the past few years,” says Ades. “More and more people are finding Soave to be a very approachable, well priced, good quality wine.”

It also helps that top sommeliers are seeking alternatives to Burgundy. That’s where more premium Soave Classico and Soave Superior steps in, says Inama. 

“If you’re looking for a wine with complexity and minerality with a sense of creaminess, nuttiness, our Foscarino and Carbonare Soaves really pop out as some of the best,” Inama says. “I have customers in Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo, Moscow, and New York that are pouring our Foscarino as an alternative to Burgundy. The quality to price ratio has become very appealing.”

It helps that a new generation of wine lovers knows nothing of Soave’s troubled history, so the past doesn’t influence their drinking choices. 

“If you are a wine drinker who doesn’t know the history of Soave, and you’re looking for new wine, Soave Classico is just another white wine. It’s not well known. So the biggest issue is educating people on what it is and getting them to choose that glass of wine,” says Ades.

Nonetheless, the overall quality of Soave throughout the region today is much higher than it once was. 

“This is a moment that takes years of work to reach, but we all can really feel how the region is changing for the better,” says Inama. 

12 wines to try:

bottle of Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico 2019

Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico 2019 (~$14)

Winemaking at Fattori dates back to the early 1900s when winemaker Antonio Fattori’s grandfather planted vines in the hills around the village of Terrossa. The winery has maintained its standards for producing Soave Classico with elegant aromas and body like this one, which exudes fragrances of elderflower and citrus fruit with zippy acidity and tropical fruit flavors on the palate.

bottle of Inama Vin Soave Classico 2020

Inama Vin Soave Classico 2020 (~$16)

Screw off the cap and smell the floral fragrance. Produced by Inama, which has been around since 1965, this wine may smell fresh and light but it has a structure with a mineral backbone and an almond finish. Drink it now, or be wowed by the complexity that shows after a few years of bottle aging.

bottle of Brigaldara Soave 2020

Brigaldara Soave 2020 (~$18)

High acidity. Medium body. Clean, medium-long finish. This wine, produced by Brigaldara, is fresh and fruity, displaying notes of chamomile, stone, and citrus fruits.

bottle of Cantina Prà Otto Soave Classico 2020

Cantina De Pra Otto Soave Classico 2020 (~$19)

Areas like Monte Grande and Monte Bisson in Soave have gained fame thanks to the renowned winemaking at Cantina De Pra, founded by Giuseppe De Pra in 1959. This particular bottle has received high scores from critics thanks to its bright notes of fresh florals and yellow fruits backed by refined minerality.

bottle of Pieropan Soave Classico 2020

Pieropan Soave Classico 2020 (~$19)

You can’t miss the lime and slate in this wine. Produced by Pieropan, a winery that has existed since 1880, this medium-bodied wine is made with organically grown Garganega grapes. It’s balanced with persistent fruit flavors and fresh acidity.

bottle of Tamellini Le Bine di Costiola Soave Classico 2020

Tamellini Le Bine di Costiola Soave Classico 2020 (~$20)

Four generations of the Tamellini family have manned the winemaking at Tamellini. This particular bottle is a part of the winery’s cru line and spends at least a year maturing in the bottle before release. The extra aging helps the wine develop ripe stone fruit nuances, zesty citrus flavors, and a velvety texture doused with almond.

bottle of Gini Viticoltori Soave Classico 2020

Gini Soave Classico 2020 (~$20)

This straw-yellow wine is an intense bouquet of wildflowers on the nose, while the palate showcases white peach, tropical fruit, and dashing minerality. Gini specializes in making fresh and fragrant wines from low-yield vines grown on the rocky and tuffaceous hillside of Monteforte d’Alpone, resulting in wines that have a silky texture with a slightly salty finish.

bottle of Cantina Filippi Castelcerino Colli Scaligeri Soave 2020

Cantina Filippi Castelcerino Colli Scaligeri Soave 2020 (~$22)

The Filippi family has made wines in the Colli Scaligeri area since the early 1900s. Garganega grapes used in this bottle specifically come from 60-year-old vines planted at the Castelcerino vineyard where volcanic soil is abundant. The wine exudes floral characteristics and plenty of tropical, stone fruit, and citrus notes, and noticeable herbal quality.

bottle of Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2016

Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2016 (~$22)

Elegant and crisp, this award-winning yellow-hued wine is made by Cantina Rocca Sveva with grapes from the Soave Classico growing area, including the hills of Soave and Monteforte. The wine is vibrant with apple, melon, and peach characteristics while a hint of almond plays in the background with bright acidity.

bottle of Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico 2018

Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico 2018 (~$30)

Although the Tessari Family has made wines under the Suavia label since the 1800s, it wasn’t until 1980 when winemaking was focused on growing low-yield grapes and making site-specific wines. Since then, the winery has become one of the leading producers of Soave, making bright and sophisticated wines with depth. This one, in particular, is bone dry, displaying interesting smoky aromas that mesh with a mineral palate. The finish is long and features classic almond nuances.

bottle of Roccolo Grassi La Broia Recioto di Soave DOCG 2014

Roccolo Grassi La Broia Recioto di Soave DOCG 2014 (~$35)

Looking for a sweet Soave? This golden-colored wine, produced by Roccolo Grassi, is singing with delicate and complex, sugary notes of apricot, honey, citrus fruits, and toasted nuts. The wine is balanced with fresh acidity.

bottle of Tessari 'Tre Colli' Recioto di Soave DOCG 2017

Tessari Tre Colli Recioto di Soave DOCG 2017 (~$45)

Yet another Recioto di Soave, this sweet yellow-gold wine is velvety in texture and displays intense, fresh tropical fruit and spicy aromas. The palate drips with roasted almond and honey flavors. This wine is made by Tessari, a winery that has existed since 1933.