Continuing traditions (Soave, Italy)

Due to a few inconveniences both good and bad I lost at least seven days of potential visits whilst I was in Italy. Some of these interruptions were for holidays, including Easter which I spent with wonderful family friends in Milano, and who my parents and I also spent Christmas with last week. Other inconveniences were due either to the inability to find wineries thanks to inaccurate directions or addresses, or to wineries not replying to my emails. A final inconvenience was Vinitaly held in Verona, which was a fascinating insight into the world of trade shows but not a particularly good way to learn about wines and regions as not only are you simply tasting wines in a convention centre but the hosts are also extremely distracted with countless other things and therefore not able to give the best introduction to their winery. Whilst I was in Verona I did manage to visit a few producers in Valpolicella which is to the north of the city extending from the east to the west, but there are a number of other areas in Veneto that were left unexplored, including the highest volume DOCG, Prosecco. I had the chance to join a group from Australia for dinner in Verona at the invitation of their Soave producer, and being familiar with their quality I was thrilled to have the chance to take my parents there on my return.
The castle sits overlooking the village of Soave

Pieropan can be found inside the walls of the historic village of Soave which was once the enormous courtyard of the 14th century castle that still stands on the hill above. The winery was established in 1890 during the tumultuous phylloxera epidemic that resulted in a large number of vineyards being scrubbed, abandoned or sold, and it was very advantageous for those looking at getting into the wine business. The original founder left a career in surgery to establish the winery, partly thanks to a problem with the sight of blood which is somewhat a problem in the medical field. Vineyards and land were purchased and mostly re-planted with new vines and a deliberate focus on quality rather than volume was initiated. At this time as in the rest of Veneto (and most of Italy) wine wasn’t the big business it is today, and all of the vineyards were planted on the slopes of the hills to the north of the village. After the second world war as demand for Italian wine increased, particularly for Soave in new markets like the UK and USA, the valley floors were planted where the soils are more fertile and alluvial and produce high volume lower quality fruit. Soave was one of the original DOC regions in Italy after Chianti, and the first for white wine, so at the time Italian white wine was essentially Soave, long before it was pinot grigio.

The three different soil types in Pieropan vineyards

In spite of the huge increases in demand for soave wine, Pieropan decided to remain on the slopes and retain their quality focus. They did however begin to purchase vineyards in neighbouring Valpolicella (a much larger viticultural area stretching from western Soave to west of Verona), as there was burgeoning interest and demand for red wines from this area. The uncompromising approach to quality continued here as well, and they have recently completed renovations of an old estate where they produce and age the rosso di valpolicella and amarone. All of the fruit selection is done in the vineyards as only the healthiest bunches are selected for the dry wines. Pieropan were one of the first to make single vineyard soave white wine, and they identified two vineyards in particular, but they are made in very different ways. The Calvarino is made in a very hands-off way with only old and large-format oak barrels for the maturation, whereas the La Rocca is fermented and aged for longer in generally smaller and newer oak barrels, often French. The argument is this is the perfect expression for each terroir, but I have much more affinity with the Calvarino as I feel the handling of the La Rocca is too heavy and hides the expression and subtlety. The Recioto di Soave is astonishingly well made; fruit is harvested a little earlier (often with botrytis) and left to dry in traditional bamboo mats, some of which were used by the great-grandfather himself after getting the idea from the silk merchants who used them to cultivate silkworms. The very ecological approach makes a huge difference in terms of quality and concentration, but the wines are still very delicate and food-friendly, the Amarone in particular. I need to see a bottle of the La Rocca with a lot more age to see how it develops, as it is a bit segmented and tough in its youth. Click here to read my tasting notes.

2012 garganega grapes drying on bamboo racks

Click here to see more photos from Soave.

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