The team at JR.com have been flying the flag for Soave for a long time.
2018 from $14.99, €22.75, HK$222, 3,610 Japanese yen, 229 Danish kroner, £26.99, AU$56.41, 795 Czech koruna, 5,536 Russian roubles
2019 from €22.04, 29.40 Swiss francs, HK$260, 3,680 Japanese yen, £27.09, 359.90 Norwegian kroner, AU$59.13, SG$74
In 2009, Walter, in Soave but not as we know it, was already arguing against the general perception of Soave as a cheap, dilute wine, pointing out that Garganega was capable of making great wines. A decade later, Tim Jackson tasted his way through 100 Soaves and confirmed that Soave was indeed a wine to be taken seriously.
Much of this is thanks to a quiet revolution which has taken place over the last 20 years. Many producers have turned from quantity to quality, realising the potential of the best hillside vineyards, lowering yields and taking a less industrial approach in the winery. There have, however, been a handful of producers who have always focused on producing top-quality Soave, and one of them is a name almost synonymous with Soave: Pieropan.
Pieropan was founded in 1880 by a local doctor, Leonildo Pieropan, and four generations later it is still a family-owned estate run by his great-grandsons, brothers Andrea and Dario (pictured below). Although they make an excellent Soave Classico, it is their two single-vineyard Soaves that are particularly exciting. Jancis recommended their Calvarino single-vineyard 2014 in a Wine of the week back in 2016. But earlier this year, I was fortunate to taste a small vertical of their other single-vineyard bottling, La Rocca. This 6-ha vineyard, which they have owned since 1978, is on on the slopes of Monte Rocchetta below the castle. While a large percentage of Soave vineyards lie on volcanic soil, La Rocca has clay-limestone soils studded with white stones, so the Garganega grown here is said to be more aromatically complex and more elegant. The vineyard is now certified organic.
La Rocca is always made from 100% Garganega, coming from vines between 10 and 50 years old. The grapes are hand-picked, destemmed and crushed, then undergo a short maceration with skin contact in 2,500-litre barrels. After fermentation, the wine is racked into 500- and 2,000-litre barrels, where it ages for around a year. During this period, the wine remains on the fine lees although it doesn't go through malolactic conversion. It is held in bottle for a few months before release.
In all honesty, I'm really making Pieropan La Rocca, any vintage, my wine of the week. It is a thrilling wine, and if you're lucky enough to be able to get your hands on older vintages, don't hesitate for a second. But you're more likely to be able to buy the most recent vintages, which is why I'm focusing on the 2018 and 2019.
The 2018, already quite deep gold, was mouth-watering and breathtakingly complex before I'd even taken a sip. It smelt of gorse blossom and buttered toast, angelica and bay flowers. I held the glass a couple of centimetres from my nose and the perfume, so intense you could practically see it, just kept soaring out: yuzu, bergamot, passion fruit. My tasting note was written almost in a trance... 'I've barely put it to my lips and the first impression is broad, rich, tightly controlled yet explosively athletic power and beauty. A dancer. But then the acidity fills the mouth and the wine shapeshifts; it's racy, almost frozen-in-a-moment still, and it’s a chandelier splitting bright light into shards, into glittering rainbows. The wine explodes, fills the mouth in a crescendo of flavour and structure and texture. Quite stunning. Florals and almost coconutty herbs. Long and almost bewilderingly complex.'
The 2019, bottled at the beginning of February 2021, also had this extraordinary nose, despite being so, so young and not long bottled. I wrote, 'Mango and yuzu, tendrils of honeysuckle cling to the nose; the scent of lemon blossom and silky yellow roses bruised in the mist-fine patter of early-morning rain. Already, the smells curl out the glass, slow wide ribbons that shimmer from flowers to earth to the limpid pearl glow of harvest moonrise. Such a golden wine. Like tasting a metallograph of golden crystals in microscopic detail by honey-hazed candlelight. Candied citrus peel, saffron, bergamot. Ice-pick stilettos of acidity deliver spine-piercing precision. And a stony chew, clad in almost-transparent texture, gentleness over a structure so defiant it clangs like a gong. This has only just begun. The kind of wine you need to buy 12 bottles of and taste one a year. Exquisite, already. But oh, such a long way to go...'
Both wines are a mere 13% alcohol, and although I've given them drinking windows from now to 2030 and 2032 respectively, they're likely to go on much, much longer. It's not just a fine, complex wine, but also a very ageworthy one. Jancis and Julia had the privilege of attending a Pieropan vertical in 2016, tasting vintages of both single-vineyard wines La Rocca and Calvarino going back from 2014 to 1986, and Jancis's tasting notes show just how incredibly well these wines age. And although I usually try to find a wine of the week that is well under £20, in this case I actually cannot overstate the value of these wines. I think they're worth more than double this. As I said in my tasting note for the 2019, both of these wines are worth buying by the case, and drinking a bottle a year, just for the sheer joy of watching them develop.
The much-loved and respected Leonildo 'Nino' Pieropan, who is considered to be Soave's greatest champion and pioneer (he was the first to bottle a single-vineyard wine and led the crusade to recognise the cru sites of Soave), died in 2018, aged 71. So perhaps that makes it even more special to have a bottle of 2018, to taste and toast the man, who, in many ways, put Soave on the map.
The 2018 is available in the US (IN, TX, NY, CA, CT, CO, TN, MN, RI), the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Jersey, the Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The 2019 is available in the UK, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan and Australia. In a number of countries it is only available by the case or you can get best bottle price if you buy by the case.
In the UK, the best prices for both the 2018 and 2019 are if you're buying cases of six or 12 bottles, although Taylor's Fine Wine has the best 2018 per-bottle price of £26.99, and for the 2019 it's Drinks&Co, selling it for £27.09. Exel wines is offering the 2019 for £28.35.
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The photos are all courtesy of Pieropan.