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Excellent Italian whites now abound. Yet there is still see a general refusal to take them seriously.

Soave Classico these days is not what it was in the bad old days

Jun 14, 2019 5:50 AM

SO MUCH of what we think we know about wine is probably wrong.

That's just a fact. And it has a lot to do with how we learn about wine. Much of what we think we know comes from reading something somewhere, or extrapolating generalities from a single bottle, or remembering something somebody said, or from equally nebulous sources.

Customs become consecrated. Beliefs become dogma. When orthodoxy dictates behaviour, entire worlds of pleasure can be missed.

Just look at the world of Italian white wines. These were dismissed wholesale generations ago, for what were then good reasons. What was available 40 or 50 years ago in the United States was innocuous at best. Served ice-cold, it reached its potential if it was dry and refreshing - cheap, cheerful and forgettable.

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Never mind that this has long ceased to be the case. Excellent Italian whites now abound. Yet I still see a general refusal to take them seriously, regardless of their quality. Even those open-minded enough to detect the improvements sometimes wonder if they are capable of proper evaluations.

This may sound as if I am roundly dismissing expertise and wine authorities. Not at all. We just need to recognise that the wine world has changed considerably over the last 25 years. What may have been true in the 1990s, or even in 2005, is not necessarily true today.

For this reason, it is paramount to be open not only to what's new but also to what may seem old. If you hold a general conviction that, say, wines of California are too alcoholic, that Beaujolais is just a jolly little quaffing wine or that German riesling is always sweet - all tenacious clichés - it's time to revisit these beliefs.

Over the last month, we have tried this exercise with Soave Classico, one of those Italian whites that many people seem to believe has little of interest to offer. As I do each month, I recommended three good examples. The point is both to enjoy and evaluate the wines in a relaxed and natural setting, and to make people feel comfortable deciding for themselves whether they like a wine, regardless of what authorities might indicate with points, tasting notes or other critical tools.

Here are the three bottles I suggested: Pieropan Soave Classico 2017, Suavia Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2017 and Prà Soave Classico Otto 2017.

Two of these, the Pieropan and the Prà, are entry-level bottles, good introductions to the genre and to a producer's style. The Monte Carbonare is a step up from Suavia's easygoing fresh and fruity Soave Classico. It was also the most expensive of the three at US$25, compared with the US$17 Prà and the US$20 Pieropan.

As Soave Classicos, they all come from the original source of the Soave appellation, a series of volcanic hillsides in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. The appellation was expanded greatly in the 1960s to include flat, fertile areas that were good for high yields but not so great for producing good wine.

The Classico appellation generally indicates a superior wine to those simply labelled Soave. Another designation, Soave Superiore, exists, but it unfortunately creates confusion by linking quality to stricter ageing requirements rather than to geography. One last designation, Soave Colli Scaligeri, indicates wines from hillside vineyards outside the Classico zone.

The first decision producers must make is which grapes to use. For Soave Classico, the dominant grape is garganega. By law, garganega must make up at least 70 per cent of the blend, with the remainder being trebbiano di Soave (better known as verdicchio) or chardonnay.

In the bad old days, other grapes were allowed as well, including trebbiano Toscano, a lower-quality, neutral grape that was largely introduced in the region to increase yields. New rules exclude it as well as limit yields.

Among our three wines, the Prà and the Suavia were both 100 per cent garganega, while the Pieropan was 85 per cent garganega and 15 per cent trebbiano di Soave.

One might assume that it's better to be 100 per cent garganega than to blend, but is it really? I might agree if the remainder were chardonnay, but trebbiano di Soave seems to go very well with garganega.

I thought the blend certainly worked in the Pieropan, which was lively and vibrant, with the scent of flowers, citrus and almonds. It had an almost granular sort of texture.

The Prà Otto was likewise lively, with aromas more floral than almond and citrus. It was pleasant - delicious, really - though not quite as textured as the Pieropan. It seemed more mediated, less direct.

Of the three, I liked the Suavia Monte Carbonare best. It was subtler than the Pieropan, a little denser and more mineral, with floral, almond and pear flavours, and a similar granular texture. The flavours seemed to linger extraordinarily long in the mouth.

All three of these wines were fermented and aged in neutral vats intended to maximise the wine's lively aromas and flavours - the Prà and the Suavia in steel and the Pieropan in glass-lined concrete.

Occasionally, Soave is fermented and aged in oak, but it has to be done carefully so as not to overwhelm the nuances of the wine. Pieropan's La Rocca is an excellent example of an oak-aged Soave Classico, one that is, incidentally, 100 per cent garganega.

The more we explore, the more experiences we gather, the better and more confident we become at articulating what we like. This is the essence of loving wine, just as it is with anything worth knowing about. Knowledge comes with experience.

That's why it is important to open yourself up to wines that you might have reflexively dismissed. If you liked Soave Classico, and even if you did not, you may well like verdicchios from the Marche, vermentinos from Liguria, carricantes from Sicily and fianos from Campania, to say nothing of even lesser-known varieties like vespaiola, grillo or nosiola.

If you don't try it, you won't know what you are missing. NYTIMES