Let’s all cheer the rebirth of a friendly old wine that once soared, then faltered, and now has risen once more. It’s called Soave (So-AH-vay).
The city called Soave is picturesque, rock-walled and medieval, visible from the highway between Veneto and Venice in northeast Italy. Its moated castle dates back to 934.
The wine called Soave, by contrast, is soft, dry and light-bodied, with delicate flavors of apples, lemons, pears and peaches and a hint of minerals. In fact, dictionaries translate the Italian word “soave” as “soft” or “delicate.” By law it must be 70 percent from the crisp, white garganega grape, with the remaining 30 percent from trebbiano, chardonnay and others.
The best Soave comes from the Soave Classico area, a 4,000-acre zone within the 16,000-acre Soave region, from hillside vineyards with volcanic soils, low yields and superior winemaking.
Soave’s history parallels that of Italy’s famous red wine, Chianti. GIs returning from World War II brought fond memories of both wines, and both enjoyed post-war booms in U.S. sales.
When I was a starving (and thirsty) student in Bologna, near Veneto, in the 1960s, we mostly drank the local fizzy red Lambrusco because it was 48 cents a liter. But when we very occasionally could spend a whole dollar for a bottle, we bought Soave, and considered it a luxury.
Unfortunately, the popularity of Soave and Chianti spurred over-cropping and casual, bulk winemaking that damaged the reputations of both wines by the mid-1970s.
Chianti fought its way back years ago. Better grapes and better winemaking have restored its reputation as a great Italian wine. Now Soave, especially Soave Classico, is doing the same, with the best wines made by top-notch individual producers instead of some of the old mass-production cooperatives.
Usually dry, crisp and made without oak aging, Soave is an excellent aperitif, good with salty snacks, a nice match for grilled chicken and grilled vegetables as well as raw shellfish and light seafood dishes – especially the garlic-scented shrimp scampi of Venice.
So try a bottle and welcome it back.
• 2010 Inama Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico, DOC: pale yellow color, medium body, aromas of white flowers, flavors of ripe pears and lemons, tart finish; $24.
• 2012 Cantina di Soave Roca Sveva Soave Classico, DOC: pale yellow color, floral aromas, flavors of ripe apples, citrus and minerals, nutty finish; $16.
• 2011 Inama “Vin Soave” Soave Classico, DOC: pale color, floral aromas, light body, flavors of lemons and minerals, tart finish; $15.
• 2012 Cantina di Soave “Midas” Soave, DOC: pale yellow color, white flower aromas, flavors of lemons and minerals, tart finish; $10.
• 2011 Bolla Tufaie Soave Superiore Classico, DOCG: yellow color, aromas of camellias, flavors of citrus and spice, almond-scented finish; $12.