Saturday, 15 September 2012

Terra Viva - SoaveCru, the new face of Soave

Soave is one of the best known white wines of Italy, the staple of trattorias from Catford to Cricklewood. There's no point though in denying that the great quantities of wine produced on the flatlands of the denomination 30 kilometres east of Verona have done little for its reputation. In truth,  bog-standard Soave has been the  'Grocer's Muscadet' of Italy - often thin, metallic and characterless - and like its French counterpart only capable of interest and real distinction  when it is hand-made in the artisanal way from superior sights that allows the fine lees to shape its mineral, savoury flavours. The good news this June  was the launch of SoaveCru, an association of 16 small producers who believe implictly in the historic inheritance of their volcanic soils in the hillier slopes of the Soave Classico and Colli Scaligeri subzones - their aim the crafting of a new image for the disciplinare. The area is lucky to have the elegant, small-scale town of Soave at its heart nestling beneath the Classico hills.

Renaissance street of Soave near the Castello

SoaveCru's  supreme aim is to interpret the great wine that these classic hillsides can nurture - an area recognized 70 years as one of Italy's first fine wine zones, a little later confirmed by Royal Decree. Yet as Sandro Gini, the President of the Association stresses, " it's not intended to be a elitist group, but rather a way of operating that is open to all who are happy to devote themselves to it." A strong synergy is being forged  by these vignerons, united in a love for their area. " we wish to communicate the passion we put into our work," says Sandro, " so giving added value and significance to the denomination, passing onto our childen vineyards that are  environmentally-friendly." The key interpreter of this special wineland is the Garganega grape, which has the chance to realize its full potential nowhere better than in this volcanic heartland of white wine in the Veronese. Particular focus is aimed onto individual vineyards in the best sub-zones, where respect for the land is rigorous.

On a visit to Soave in early June, I was intrigued by one estate MonteTondo, which is actually situated close to the autostrada down from the hills, some of its wines based on limestone, not the Volcanic basalt. But this is a dynamic forward-looking enterprise of 25 hectares founded in 1980 and one that also makes a Soave charmat- method sparkler.We were hosted by the daughter of the house, the diminutive ball of energy that is Marthe Magnabosca.

Her entry-level 2009 Soave Classico is 100% Garganega on calcaire, cold-soaked for 24 hours then into tanks till February.  Pale, green-straw, quite exotic fruits nose, easy and direct on the palate, a delicious straightforward wine, no pretensions.xx

 2009 single vineyard Foscarin Savinus Soave Classico Superiore DOCG  is made in a mix of tanks and barrels. The soil is volcanic and the yields reasonable (6,500/7,000 kg/ha). The tastes are the story of a very warm year, the dominant impression  ripe honeycombs and almost surmature
grapes. I don't think the wine has QUITE enough elegance and subtle complexity to satisfy a purist, like my good journalist friend Franco Ziliani, but I rate the wine and thought of all the good things I'd  want eat with it - sauced lobster, soft-shell crab and mountain gorgonzola. xxx

2006 single v'yd Foscarin Savinus Soave Classico Superiore DOCG - now we're talking, Foscarin Savinus from a much greater vintage -fascinating nose melding memories of more delicate  sauternes-like opulence, with the basalt minerals and bite of Volcania Soave. Superb balance of evolved fruit, benign oak scents and a developing vinosity, all the time fresh and vigorous with fine acidity. Vino di contemplazione. Remarkable, and all the more so for being from an up and coming estate. xxxx 
Classico vineyards high above Soave

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Wrapped in a forgotten corner of France

bowl of vyds below chateau-chalon home to vin jaune
On the last day of my fabulous holiday I drove up from the rocky outcrops of the Jura onto the bucolic plateau of the Hauts Doubs, 800 metres above sea-level. Less dramatic than the wooded craggy magnificence of Vin Jaune country, the plateau is a natural place for the Gentian bitter herb, one of the ingredients in vermouth and, notoriously, absinth: the exact length of Gentian's stem is said to foretell how harsh the next winter will be. On this glorious morning, the benign landscape was dotted with the red-spotted Montbeliard cows, whose milk makes fine Morbier and great Comte cheese. It's also a good place for horse riding and, come January, cross-country skiing. And if you like things simple, a gentle art de vivre thrives in a land of wine, aperitifs and Morteau sausage.
Pont de l'Ain en route for Pontarlier

Passing through a quiet village called (I kid you not) Pisseenvache, hunger pains made me look at my watch: 1.15pm and time for lunch! Five minutes later, I fell on my feet in a neat little resto with a board advertising menu du jour 13 euros. It turned out to be exceptional value for honest food of true flavours: a super tranche of tete de cochon made by the butcher/livestock farmer & father of the young patron; paupiette de porc with spaghetti: a great wedge of Comte, a demi-pichet of vin de pays de Vaucluse; apricot tart &coffee, all in. Vive la Vieille France ! And to add a modern twist, the pretty blonde patronne and a subtle voice for her husband looked as if she would feel as much as home in Paris's rue du Cherche Midi as in the Doubs.

Engagingly, she confessed she much preferred Burgundy to Jura wines: if one was forced to make the choice, who wouldn't! Jeune Madame also told me that the nearby town Pontarlier was a rich place, as many of the inhabitants worked across the border in Switzerland, where they could earn four times what they would in France. I drove on to Pontarlier, sizzling in 34 C degree heat, slaked my thirst with a cold beer, then more comfortably crossed the border into a heavenly green fir valley and descended to the Lake of Neufchatel & Swiss Pinot country. Another story for another day.

great local hostelry, Bevier, Lake Neufchatel