Italian White Wine You Might Not Be Drinking: Soave


Veneto vineyard. [Flickr: vinofamily]

I can't help it. I crack up every time I enter a wine store, intending to ask for Soave, the Italian white wine, which frankly deserves some respect.

But all too quickly, I lapse into an early 1990s flashback, and I hear in my head: "Suave. Rico...Suave." And with that guttural crooning cheesiness taking over my brain, I collapse into a helpless fit of giggles and have to flee the store.

As a longtime Prosecco enthusiast, a sommelier friend advised me that if I like Prosecco, then Soave was a wine well worth trying. Like Prosecco, it's created in the Venice area, and is among the top-selling wines in Italy, even though most U.S. drinkers pay it little heed. It's available still as well as spumanti (sparkling) and recioto (sweet).

Legend has it that Dante, the famous Italian poet of the 13th century, gave soave its name (meaning "smooth," just as "suave" means the same in Spanish), because of its mildness.

So I put aside my giggles, and I opted for a still wine.

I tried Soave Classico Cantina del Castello 2008, $17. It's made of 90% Garganega grapes, and 10% Trebbiano di Soave.

A second bottle of Soave from the same producer was $22. The store clerk couldn't explain to me what made the wine worth an extra five bucks, but according to the Cantina Castello website, the main difference is that the other bottle was composed of 80% Garganega and 20% Trebbiano di Soave, and the grapes come from a single vineyard. Why would this make a difference?

Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy of Wine for Dummies fame describe Trebbiano as "a cheap ticket to bland, neutral-tasting, light-bodied, crisp wine." Meanwhile, Garganega grapes are "unsung" grapes "capable of making rich, unctuous wines with character and class." Which I translate as more Garganega = better wine, right?

I'm looking forward to trying that one, but I was very pleased with my $17 bottle: it was light, soft, and smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel. Although this is not an aromatic wine—it had just a faint floral scent—it was delicious, with flavors of pear, lychee, a touch of almond, and a pretty vanilla finish. Pale straw color, and a hint of effervescence in the glass and on the tongue.

As for pairings? I could easily imagine it with an equally delicate Italian dish, like risotto or pasta with shrimp, or perhaps something earthy, like mushrooms or slices of aged cheese.

I'm not yet soave/suave enough to ask for a bottle without at least smirking, but with a few more tastings of this lovely Italian white, I'll get there. Eventually.