Wine Discovery: The Whites of Soave

The singular Italian grape region produces varieties of white wine that epitomize their provenance.

In an era when the same flavors and grape varieties seem to keep coming around—buttery Chardonnays, jammy Cabernets—the Italian white wine known as Soave stands out. As distinctive as a Parmigianino painting or a Venetian canal, it is hard to confuse with anything else.

Soave is named for its home area in the Veneto, the northeast Italian region that is also home to Venice, and is made primarily from the Garganega grape, which gets absolutely zero traction in other wine regions. The reason? Garganega is perfectly suited to the volcanic soil in Soave, an experiment that probably dates back a couple thousand years. (It’s usually blended with a small amount of another local grape, Trebbiano di Soave.)

"It's the oldest white-wine area in the north of Italy," explains Stefano Inama, a talented Soave winemaker and an outspoken booster for the region. "It's the beginning, it's the original."

There is something decidedly antique in Soave's taste. Full of character, it has an intriguingly subtle stony element that goes beyond fruit flavors, which modern wines tend to over-rely on. And if you’re looking for a red, stop: Soave doesn’t produce any.

The wine's storied Roman Italian history is directly connected to the development of the country’s cuisine. Floral, bright Soave is eminently meal-friendly because of its naturally high acidity and characteristic almond notes. It’s hard to imagine a better match for fritto misto or spaghetti alle vongole, cutting the fat of the former and complementing the savory seafood in the latter.

At a recent tasting arranged exclusively for departures, the biggest surprise was that not only can Soave age, it actually needs time to develop properly. "Our wine gets better in the bottle year after year," says Mera Tessari of Suavia, one of the top wineries in the area. "Five or six years from bottling is ideal." (Her Suavia Soave Classico Le Rive 2009—our favorite—backed up her assertion.)