Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pieropan and the Beauty of Soave

It's been awhile since my last post, which I'll gladly blame on circumstances beyond my control. However, we did find the time for a trip to Italy, which as any trip to Italy should, found us taking a few days at some really wonderful wineries. Tom Hyland is one of my favorite wine writers, and his 2011 blog post about the wines of Soave totally turned my head around with regards to these wines. They are not only delicious, even at the entry level, but at the single vineyard level they can be utterly profound, rivaling the great whites of the world. For most American consumers however, Soave is an afterthought, a quaint little white the parents of my generation drank from a bulk producer like Bolla. It gave my generation a lasting impression of Soave that wasn't very positive. And of course a lot of folks just don't know what Soave is. It often takes a trusted retailer or sommelier to get someone to try a wine from outside their comfort zone.

The quiet streets of Soave

Soave is a small, quiet, beautiful town, with the old section comprised of just two main streets. And of course there's a castle overlooking the town and the surrounding, vine covered terrain. The vines on the flats produce grapes for the basic Soave while the vines on the hills just north of town produce the Soave Classicos and the single vineyard bottlings.

Look north from Pieropan's roof, that's the 
Classico hill on the right and the hill where where 
the Calvarino Vineyard is located is 2 over from that

We visited one of the top producers in the zone, Pieropan. They have a couple of fairly new red projects, an Amarone and a Valpolicella, but I was there for the whites - their beautiful Soaves. There's three dry Soave bottlings and one dessert wine. The Classico and the Calvarino Vineyard bottling are fermented in fiberglass lined cement tamks that are built right into the wall. They both spend time in tank and on the lees, the latter for about a year, and are then bottled and aged for a bit prior to release. The La Rocca bottling is fermented in 2500 liter French oak barrels, then racked into a mixture of 2500 liter and 500 liter oak barrels where it remains on the lees for a year before being bottled.

Fermenting Tanks

2500 Liter French Oak barrels

There's a big difference in the soil that the Calvarino and La Rocca bottlings come from as well. The Calvarino Vineyard is volcanic in nature and rich in basalt while the La Rocca vineyard is from clay soils. Both sit on hillsides at 200-300 meters in altitude. According to our hosts, the clay gives the La Rocca a richer profile in general, which in turn lends it to barrel fermentation and aging. So, given the soil differences and the different treatments in the cellar, there were also big differences in the aromas and flavors of the single vineyard wines, with the La Rocca drinking more like a premier cru white Burgundy while the Calvarino was leaner and more minerally.

The lineup of Pieropan's Soaves

Garganega is the most important grape of the Soave zone. Pieropan's Classico is 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave, the Calvarino is 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave, and the La Rocca is 100% Garganega. The entry level Classico can be had for as low as $14.99 and features beautiful aromas of citrus and peach buttressed by a nutty nuance from the aging on the lees. It's juicy and bright tasting with excellent cut and acidity. The Calvarino Vineyard bottling was my favorite, with more mineral notes in the nose, along with lime zest, mint and orchard fruit. It's fruit is long and lean with obvious stoniness from the volcanic soils. This should age beautifully. The La Rocca on the other hand is completely different. The barrel aging is apparent, giving the wine a more rounded texture and more spice notes in the nose and palate. There's plenty of fruit here also but this wine has very different aspirations than the other two. They are all delicious but I definitely prefer the more true to type profile of the Classico and Calvarino bottlings. The single vineyard bottlings will cost you around $25-$30. Neil Empson, who has a wonderful portfolio, imports these amazing wines. Cheers.

Pieropan's cellar - the single vineyard wines age very well

a great day in Soave