Soave is one of those wines that is sometimes ignored by the serious wine drinker, and mostly misunderstood by the casual wine drinker. Many folks cannot tell the difference between Soave and Pinot Grigio – primarily because the same grape is used in both. Although I poke fun at Pinot Grigio (like Miles in Sideways saying, “No more f****** merlot”), there are a few noteworthy Pinot Grigio wines that have made it in the house of the SeriousFoodie (the amazing wines from St. Michael-Eppan in Alto Adige and the Attems from the Venezia-Giulia region, which is a 20 under $20 wine). But the focus here will be on Soave, which is the best expression of garganega in our opinion.
Garganega is, unfortunately, over produced in Italy, and most of the over produced product ends up being labeled Pinot Grigio. But in the Soave region, especially the Classico zone, yields are lower, and the best flavors of the grapes come through – think citrus fruit like lemon or lime, and some nutty flavors like almond or hazelnut. Garganega is the main grape of Soave (at least 70%), but can also be blended with Trebbiano and Chardonnay. In addition to Soave, Garganega is often found grown in the Umbria and Friuli wine regions. The best wines made from Garganega, though, are found in the Veneto region.
Now here’s the real intriguing secret: good Soave is about the same price as bad Pinot Grigio. The best Soaves are a bit hard to find, but try a few that are more limited productions (stay away from labels with familiar names or look like a corporate production). Here are a few of our favorites (independent of vintage):
Pieropan Soave – Always our go-to Soave. Full of fun flavors (citrus, melon, and some exotic fruit notes such as star fruit, as well as almond), and crisp acidity that pairs well with seafood and strong cheeses. The tastes linger in your mouth for a while. This wine typically is blended with Trebbiano (about 15%). Priced at about $17. Look also for their higher end version – Classico La Rocca – which has even more depth and more stone fruit flavor, especially apricot. Priced at about $30.
Monte Tondo Soave Corte del Sole. Talk about a bargain – this little beauty goes for about $12 at our local wine store, and I have seen this in a few supermarkets. You’ll get a lot of the same flavors of other Soaves, including lemon and almond, but it has this very nice buttery texture and a hint of pineapple.
Inama Soave Classico Vin Soave. We like this producer a lot, and have tried many of their higher end wines such as their Oratorio (about price at about $65). Their Soave is a reasonable $15, and I have been able to find it at many local wine stores. It has a pleasant, slightly smoky taste not found in the others, as well as the typical lemon and almond, with a bit of exotic spice (think Indian food).