Soave is arguably the most famous white-wine DOC in Italy. Granted in 1968, the DOC title covers wines made from Garganega grapes grown on the hillsides east of Verona, in the Veneto wine region of north-eastern Italy. A dry, crisp, fruity white wine, Soave's naturally refreshing appeal led it to phenomenal popularity in the second half of the 20th century.
Ask any wine drinker to name a well-known Italian wine, and their answer will almost certainly be either Pinot Grigio or Soave. Names such as Gavi, Orvieto and Frascati might also figure on the list, but the sheer volume of Soave which has made its way out of Veneto in recent decades has drowned out the competition. The fact that Pinot Grigio figures alongside Soave as one of the most famous Italian wines is a sign of the times. It is a sign of the power shift from Old World to New World, a change in focus from village to vine, terroir to varietal. For now, though, the DOC system survives, and is adapting year by year to the demands of the variety-led modern wine consumer.
As with Chianti, whose wine might be viewed as Soave's red equivalent, the quantity of Soave wine produced every vintage is much more consistent than its quality. The natural temptation to drive for higher yields (and thus higher turnover) has led many Soave producers to favor volume over value, to the eventual detriment of the Soave brand. The consequences of this have taken many years to filter through, but the negative effects are now being felt, and change is needed. In the hands of a quality-conscious producer Garganega can make classic white wines, both complex and satisfying; now that Trebbiano Toscano and Pinot Bianco have been removed from the official Soave blend, the variety's natural potential can shine through. Garganega grapes must now constitute at least 70% of any modern Soave wine, accompanied by a maximum of 30% Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio).
Although Soave is widely thought of as a still wine, there is also a foaming Soave Spumante version. The area also produces sweet wines under the Recioto di Soave DOCG. These are based on the same uvaggio (grape makeup) as standard, still, dry Soave, and the delimited production areas are also roughly the same.
The official catchment area for Soave wine production covers the communes of Monteforte d'Alpone, San Martino Buon Albergo, Mezzane di Sotto, Ronca, Montecchia di Crosara, San Giovanni Ilarione, San Bonifacio, Cazzano di Tramigna, Colognola ai Colli, Caldiero, Illasi, Lavagno and Soave itself. The production area was significantly expanded when the Soave DOC laws were drawn up, and it now covers about three times its former area. Wines from the original, 'classic' Soave vineyard area are distinguished by the title Soave Classico. Wines labeled as Soave Colli Scaligeri are from hillside vineyards whose terroir is considered superior but which lie outside the official Soave Classico zone.
In order to address the falling quality of Soave wines, and to provide distinction between the quality levels, the Soave Superiore DOCG was drafted in October 2001 and put into effect as of the 2002 vintage. See Soave Superiore for details.