Verona, star-crossed lovers, and wine: timeless and enduring as the city’s sunset-colored stone walls. We arrive on a warm morning in early September, a shimmering haze already dropping in over the city. Verona is in its peak season and humming with footsteps, awash with laughter, and utterly mesmerising.
Enamoured with the city as we are, we feel the heat. The country calls, and we pick up our car and flee the humidity. We head east to the land of Soave. A light breeze funnels down to the foothills from the Lessini Mountains above, we turn off the AC and roll down the windows to breathe it in.
Our destination Colognola ai Colli is a town just shy of 8,000 inhabitants, and famous nationwide for its fresh, umami-rich, sweet peas. Emanuele Vicentini flags us down from the roadside as we arrive.
It is lush and green all around, and the vineyards are abundant with wild grasses and flowers. It’s a real wonder this year as the summer was scorching for most of Italy. The Southern parts of Veneto and into Emilia-Romagna prayed for rain over their parched earth for 70 days.
Agostino, the patriarch, sitting and beaming on a tractor, welcomes us into the vineyard. It is a busy day for the Azienda; the pickers have been up since dawn harvesting bright, yellow-gold bunches of Garganega, and pearlescent Trebbiano di Soave (known as Verdicchio in other areas).
“We try to pick very early in the day,” explains Agostino, with an apologetic wink at his team, “A cooler harvest gives us more time to get the grapes to the press, to keep the aromatic qualities.”
It hasn’t always been this way. Agostino inherited 14 hectares of expertly kept vines from his father Francesco, who worked the land for 40 years previously. As we wind our way through the vines, he recounts the story of the region.
Soave has long been known as a top quality wine producing area. The DOC decrees Soave must be at least 70% Garganega, with Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave allowed as blending grapes. As one of Italy’s most popular export wines of the past hundred years, Soave outsold even Chianti in the USA in its heyday during the 1970s.
By the 90s, Soave DOC was the game of big cooperatives that produced more than 80% of all bottles, and Soave’s influence waned. Whether by luck, fate, or as a result of the rise and fall of Pinot Grigio as the go-to Italian easy-drinking white, Soave saw a remarkable reversal. By 2009, the co-ops’ production dwindled to 48%, as long-time grape-growers started a quiet revolution- producing and bottling their own wine. Agostino was one of these trailblazers.
“This region has been producing wine for many years, and always from Garganega,” says Agostino, “But it is only now that we have really started to explore the true nature of the grape.”
At its peak in the mid 20th century, Soave imitated Chardonnay. During the 80s and 90s, it dressed as Pinot Grigio, but the past ten years have been a journey of trial and error, and discovery. Winemakers like Agostino are championing the individual qualities of terroir and choice plots, and the Garganega grape. A shift towards higher standards quickly followed. As Agostino succinctly puts it- “It’s finally the time for Gargenga that tastes like… well, Garganega.”
What better cue for an impromptu tasting?! Emanuele is swift to our side with a few bottles. We try two 2015 Soaves side by side. “It was a really good year,” Agostino says, “Dry, but not too dry- the grapes were perfectly concentrated”
Our first glass, the Terrelunghe Soave DOC is a refreshing glass with good body- the fresh floral aroma of Garganega balanced beautifully with the light aftertaste of almonds imparted by a small amount of Trebbiano blended in. It has a vibrant acidity that cuts perfectly through the whole cows’ milk Monte Veronese DOP cheese we sample.
Then finally, the glass we’ve been waiting for, the 100% Garganega called ‘Il Casale’. Falling into the Soave Superiore DOCG classification, it is made from grapes grown on sites with the best aspects, adhering to strict maximum yields. Straw yellow in color, glinting golden as we swirl our glasses. It is full-bodied, elegant, and intense! We can understand the Vincentini passion to express Garganega to its fullest- it is powerfully aromatic, with a heady wildflower perfume that then lingers on the palate.
The whole family gathers round to toast a glass with us, and it’s evident how proud the Vicentinis are of their wine. There is a simple joy in where we stand- a small village, sunshine all around, a family building a reality. The time is ripe for a revival of Soave- to experiment, learn, and grow.
“My father did a beautiful job here, and our land is so generous,” says Agostino modestly, “For myself, I know I am always working for new goals, for more beautiful wines.”
We get the feeling that the Vicentini family are just getting started.