pair of lightweights revived
After descending into cliched obscurity,
Italy's Soave and dolcetto perk up
Special to the Tribune
September 18, 2002
the hundreds of Italian wines available today, not all are glamorous or even
fashionable. Two distinctly unstylish wines are Soave and dolcetto, even though
excellent examples are available to consumers at reasonable prices. But these
wines finally are starting to earn recognition.
pinot grigio is the country's best-known white, and chardonnay has become more
widely planted. Indigenous grapes such as greco and fiano, grown primarily in
the south, are finding their way onto more wine lists, as restaurants try to
offer an authentic selection.
in the 1970s and '80s, Soave was Italy's best-known white. It could be found in
practically every liquor store and restaurant, thanks mostly to Franco Bolla
advertising his family's version.
Americans discovered Italian wines, they looked for riper and more robust wines.
Red wines became much more popular, and when the choice was white, pinot grigio
became the default selection, though it, too, can be innocuous.
of Soave can attribute some of the wine's decline to marketing (or lack
thereof), but they have themselves to blame too. Originally, Soave came only
from a district in the province of Verona known as "classico," where
hills naturally limit the yield of the crop, insuring a wine of greater
as Soave grew in popularity, the approved production zone expanded to include
less favorable districts. Mostly in flatlands, the vineyards were planted for
quantity, not quality, and Soave became bland.
several producers are attempting to create distinctive Soave. Leonildo Pieropan,
winemaker at his family's firm that is recognized as a benchmark producer of
Soave classico, uses only the local grapes, garganega and trebbiano di Soave, in
his wines, although laws allow the use of other grapes such as chardonnay.
incorporating chardonnay could add richness, Pieropan calls that grape "a
contamination" in the Soave area. He believes that his wine represents
"the exclusive expression of the terrain of Soave," as he only uses
indigenous grapes. He maintains that many Soave producers do not believe in the
merits of the local grapes, which explains the addition of chardonnay.
is a grape treasured for its aromatics, expressing honeydew melon, pear, apple
and a floral component. The 2001 Pieropan Soave Classico Superiore (Superiore
refers to a Soave that has slightly more alcohol) has exceptional aroma along
with notes of lemon oil, almond and lilies. The 10 percent trebbiano gives the
wine a refreshing finish. At $14, this is a good value.
distinctive Soave, but of a different style, comes from Gini. Its 2000 Contrada
Salvarenza is a single-vineyard Soave produced from older vines and receives
aging in small oak barrels. This gives more richness than a regular Soave. It's
also more richly priced, at $25.
producers to look for include Tamellini, Pra and Inama. The styles depend on
aging, grape blend and vineyard selection, but all are unique and in the $12-$25
range. Even the mainstream Bolla has updated its form with its Tufaie bottling
(the 2000 vintage is $12), a richer and spicier style than its regular bottling.
problem is its reputation as a lightweight (dolcetto means "little sweet
one"). This wine, produced entirely from the dolcetto grape, is from the
Piedmont region of northwest Italy, where Barolo and Barbaresco reign supreme.
These two wines, made solely from the nebbiolo grape, are meant for the long
haul, often drinking beautifully 25 years after their release.
though, with its scant tannin, is meant for immediate consumption. The lighter
tannins also mean the wine can accompany a greater range of foods. (Polenta and
risotto, two staples of northern Italian cuisine, are ideal matches.)
admirer of dolcetto is Lynda Jo Shlaes, wine director for Convito Italiano in
Wilmette. In addition to the inherent value of the wines (most are in the
$10-$20 range), she loves their characteristics.
wines are much better today then they were 10 years ago," she said.
"They are full of big, purple fruit that wine drinkers love. They are not
jammy, sweet, one-dimensional wines but are ripe and loaded with flavor."
are named for the town in which the wines are made; the most widely available
are those from Alba, labeled "dolcetto d'Alba," or "dolcetto di
Dogliani." Those from Alba tend to be lighter than those from Dogliani,
which are generally more expensive (costing as much as $25) and more
is in the midst of several outstanding vintages. Depending on the producer,
current releases include 1999, 2000 and 2001; all are excellent. The 1999s are
more subtle with perfect acidity, good for 3 to 5 years' aging, while the 2000s
are powerhouses for those looking to pair a dolcetto with duck.
2001 may be the best vintage, as most of these wines have the power and ripeness
of the 2000s with the lively acidity of the 1999s. Only a few 2001s are
available; look for the Pio Cesare Dolcetto d'Alba ($20), which has ripe plum,
blackberry and mulberry fruit, or the Marchesi di Barolo ($16), which is more
subdued. Other excellent bottlings of dolcetto d'Alba come from Maracarini,
Clerico, Grimaldi and Marchesi di Gresy.
2000s from Dogliani also are exceptional. Two of the finest Dogliani estates
available in this market are Boschis and Pecchenino. Both produce
single-vineyard dolcettos, which makes these wines even more full-flavored and
age-worthy. The Boschis Vigna del Prey and the Pecchenino San Luigi and Siri
d'Jermu (all 2000s) are among the best dolcettos of the last decade. They are in
the $18-$25 range.
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