Soave: Medieval Walls in the Heart of the Veneto

The first time I really thought about Soave wine, it wasn’t in a very complimentary way. My husband and I dubbed Soave “airplane wine” because it was served on every single flight we took into or out of Italy. We groaned when we saw the labels on those tiny bottles. Couldn’t the airlines think of some other kind of wine to serve?

view counter

If you bring up Soave in a wine-related conversation, you’re likely to hear a wide range of opinions. Recently-revised rules for production of Soave DOC, Soave Classico DOC and Soave Superiore DOCG restrict production of Soave Superiore and Soave Classico to particular areas of the Soave hills and define the percentage of trebbiano di Soave grapes that can be used in the wine. Some people argue that the changes are too confusing for average wine-drinkers. Others insist that clearly defining production zones and prohibiting use of trebbiano Toscano grapes will result in better wines that will enhance Soave’s reputation. This year’s tasting results demonstrate that the DOC and DOCG changes are producing extremely positive results.

Chardonnay has now eclipsed Soave as “airplane wine.” In fact, it’s hard to find Soave at most of my local wine shops. For quite a while, the Soaves available outside Italy ranged in quality from fairly good to just plain dull, and their reputations declined accordingly. This year, though, in Italian Wines 2007, Gambero Rosso declared, “Soave is the zone that stands above the rest” of the Veneto wine regions. Perhaps my nearby wine dealer should take another look.

The next time I really thought about Soave wine was in my rented car, whizzing through the Veneto toward Verona. Off to my right, I noticed a stunning, walled town on the hillside. Soave’s brick walls are perfectly crenellated and lead your eyes straight up to the castle’s red tower. On the hazy autostrada, you don’t get to see towns like this very often. It took me a few minutes to connect the medieval walls with wine. Soave looked so intriguing that I promised myself I would return.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

On a “girls’ weekend” trip, I convinced my friend that we should devote a day to Soave. Driving to Soave and parking took less than half an hour from Vicenza. Soave’s walls were even more intriguing up close because they’re in such great condition. We hiked up to the castle and explored shops and medieval buildings (one has a secret tunnel) in the historic town center. To cap off our daytrip, we bought lots of gelato and strolled along the shady streets, enjoying our treats.

For many day-trippers, this would be enough. Soave’s long history of wine production makes it an even more inviting destination. Several of the well-known wineries have added elegant bed and breakfast rooms, apartments and wine shops to their properties. These include Tamellini and Monte Tondo.

If you don’t plan to spend the night, you can still experience Soave’s wines. Be sure to try one of the Recioto di Soave DOCG dessert wines; Recioto di Soave was the Veneto’s first DOCG-designated wine. It’s made by drying bunches of grapes for several months, then pressing the grapes and slowly fermenting the sweet juice.

Well-regarded Ca Rugate offers a variety of tours and tasting experiences by reservation. They speak English and German, even though their website is only in Italian. Gini, just outside of Soave in Monteforte, gives wine cellar tours and tastings. They, too, prefer that you telephone ahead.

Soave doesn’t have a train station; the closest station is in the town of San Bonifacio. If you don’t have a car, you can reach Soave by bus from Verona. Take APTV Bus 30 from the bus station across from Verona’s Porta Nuova train station.

Visiting Soave and its wineries is, of course, easier with a car. If you’re renting a car in Venice – it sounds silly, but you can do it at the Santa Lucia train station or in Mestre – it will take you about an hour to get from there to Soave; from Verona or Vicenza, perhaps half an hour or so. Parking is available near Soave’s medieval walls.

Soave is a great daytrip destination if you’re staying in the Veneto region. If you’re en route to other parts of Italy, consider stopping at Soave for lunch and a winery tour. Don’t forget to check ahead; many wineries close for part of the afternoon, Saturday after lunch and on Sundays.