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O’Keefe: ageability key to Soave’s success

Communicating the ageing potential of the wines of Soave is crucial to the rebuilding of the region’s winemaking reputation, Kerin O’Keefe has said.

Italian wine critic Kerin O’Keefe said the quality and ageability of Soave Classico wines had been reconfirmed for her at the Soave 2015 Preview

Speaking to the drinks business at the Soave 2015 Preview in Monteforte D’Alpone, Veneto, Italian wine critic O’Keefe said she had been “very, very impressed” by back vintages of Soave wine from the Classico zone presented at the event.

Even a number of wines from the Soave DOC zone – wines that are generally made to be consumed young – were “holding up extremely well” after seven or eight years in bottle, O’Keefe said.

“Soave is definitely a wine that, if it’s treated right, if it’s come from vineyards with some altitude, if it comes from vineyards with just the right soil, and of course you’re careful in the vineyards, then you have all the parameters you need to make a nice, age-worthy white,” she added.

While Soave’s quality has been evident among the region’s top estates – such as Pieropan, Gini and Pra – for many years, the overall reputation of the region has suffered owing to the quantity focus that dominated between the 1960s and 1990s.

The Soave DOC, formed in 1968, covers a large area of the flatland below Soave’s historic winegrowing area, and developed a reputation for producing large quantities of relatively neutral wine, which failed to show the full character of the local Garganega grape.

Large quantities of the naturally high-yielding Trebbiano di Toscano were also planted during that time, replacing the local Trebbiano di Soave, further diminishing the quality of wines produced in the Soave DOC zone.

However, quality levels have risen significantly since the 1990s, O’Keefe said, and the Consorzio di Tutela del Soave has been focusing on the quality proposition of the region’s wines – with ageability the key message –for the past 15 years, according to consorzio director Aldo Lorenzoni.

The turnaround for Soave
O’Keefe – who is the Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast – explained how her interest in Soave’s longevity began at Vinitaly in 2009.

Subsequently she visited the historic Gini winery, where a vertical tasting of the winery’s La Froscà cuvée back to 1988 made clear the “amazing ageing potential” of Soave from the region’s top crus.

“When I came here, Soave was really suffering from a reputation as a wine that produces a lot of quantity,” O’Keefe said.

“People weren’t realising that a huge jump in quality had been happening for a few years, even at that point, and I was really impressed. People were really pushing towards quality.

“It’s a very big area, and there are definitely some wines being made – and rightly so – to be drunk immediately, and we need those wines as well, but there was so much more going on here as well.

“The area started with the classico zone and then it really expanded in the 60s, but before that, Soave was the premier wine in quality terms of Italy. And then they sort of got lost in the quantity push for some time.

“Some producers, again especially in the classico area, where you’ve got a lot of hills, and the people have been there for generations, were always making quality wines, but not everybody knew about it and the quantities were relatively small compared to the huge expanse and the quantity that was being pumped out in the 60s to 90s.

“Then by the 2000s they realised, we’ve got something special here, we’ve got to get back to that, and I think they’re doing an amazing job.

“The quality is so high here across the board, in all the zones – the DOC zone, the DOCG zone, of course the classico zone has always been wonderful, but even in the other areas they’re doing such a good job.

“I thought one of the most fascinating thing was a few of the Soave DOCs really were ageing beautifully as well, and they weren’t the classicos, they were wines that were basically meant to be consumed pretty soon after they were made, and they were holding up beautifully seven or eight years later.”

Soave's native Garganega grapes
Soave’s native Garganega grapes

A grape for greatness
Asked what was the main reason for the ageability of Soave, O’Keefe commented: “I think it’s the combination of Garganega and the territory here.

“Usually when we talk about the wines ageing we’re thinking of the hills, because there you’ve got the volcanic soil – all these things come into play… Also vine age is crucial.

“Some of the wines that were ageing the best in [the Preview] tasting were from very old vines. And of course Gini’s vines are over a 100 years old – he’s got some that are pre-phylloxera. All of that plays a role.”

O’Keefe explained that a key moment in the shift from quantity to quality in Soave came with the grubbing up of high-vigour Trebbiano di Toscana vines – planted in addition to the traditional local plantings of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave – in the early noughties.

“At one point they had Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave,” she said. “When they were in the real kick to get out quantity, they were using a lot of Trebbiano di Toscana. Because that’s a much more vigorous variety, it pumped out the quantity they were looking for.

“They eliminated that completely, I think, in 2002. That was the first big step back to quality.

“Trebbiano di Soave does a very nice job but Garganega is the backbone of this denomination and when you have these old vines, when you have just the right soil, especially in the area where you’ve got the volcanic soil, and where you’ve got the old Garganega – you just have the prefect recipe for whites that are going to age and get complex and stay fresh for many years.”

“Most of the wines that are ageing really well here are coming from vineyards with altitude.

“Not everybody has that. And those conditions are more dispersed than I thought, but if I had to talk about the best wines for ageing I would look at the classico zone.

“But [at the Soave Preview] I did see some wines that were not in the classico zone, that were not superiore, that were ageing well – like the top wine from the Cantine di Soave, which the producer said was made to be consumed within a year, yet here it is, eight years later and it’s holding up beautifully.”

For db‘s picture diary round-up of the Soave 2015 Preview along with the nearby Colli Euganei DOC, see our Soave and Colli Euganei in Pictures feature.

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