Don't overlook simple Soave. Garganega, in the right hands, can be exciting, even at an entry-level price point.
From €9.21, £13.50, 12.49 Swiss francs, 399 Norwegian kroner, $15.47, 1,350 roubles, 1,815 Japanese yen, AU$28.99, HK$221.67, SG$47.83
If you haven't heard of Cal Flyn, you need to look her up. She's Scottish, writes literary non-fiction, and has recently published a book called Islands of Abandonment: Life in the post-human landscape. It's about what happens over long periods of time in ugly, damaged places such as old mine dumps, nuclear exclusion zones and land-mine-littered war zones which humans have fled. Her writing is unadorned, light, but exquisite and hits the nerve. Every time I pick the book up, there is something else to discover. She writes a poetry of landscape that faces the brutality of human contraventions with the wonder of the most humble of nature's interventions. The book explores the beauty, vitality and irrepressible nature of Nature in abandoned spaces. It's about regeneration, and it's a book of extraordinary hope in a time when hope is at an all-time premium. It's about places and spaces that have been rejected as not good enough, but thanks to the passage of time and the quiet, stubborn resilience of Nature, they come alive again, tell new stories.
In many ways, like the 'islands of abandonment' she writes about, there are wine regions that have fallen on hard times or have sacrificed traditions, native varieties, quality of wine and reputation for one reason or another. Whether it's through war, politics, poverty, urban sprawl, the high-rise cemented spread of tourism, greed, climate change, chemical damage, changing fashions or, simply, changing times, their stories occupy more pages of wine books than I can recall: Algeria, Lebanon, Santorini, southern Italy, Friuli and Portugal in 2021 alone. Many of these books have been written because the authors want to plead the case for us to help save them – by rediscovering, and drinking, the wines. We wine drinkers can be an unforgiving lot. Herd mentality steers us towards the safe options (venerated classics) or the trendy newcomers. In the process, many wonderful wines and wine regions are abandoned, overlooked, not quite good enough.
Soave is one of them. Long before it was classified as a DOC (in 1968), the Classico region of Soave was identified as a delimited zone making superior white wine. Exports of Italian wine to the US saw a huge boom after the Second World War, and in the process, the Veneto became what Jancis has called 'Italy's wine factory'. Soave became the region's most popular white, the vineyard area expanded considerably – in fact, by the 1970s, not even Chianti was selling as many bottles in the US as Soave. Yields soared to meet demand, as did bulk production, most of it being churned out by the enormous local co-operatives. The wines became lighter, leaner, anodyne. Soave became synonymous with cheap, insipid wine, its reputation badly damaged.
But in the last two decades, a growing number of small producers have begun to bottle their own wines. These wines occupy that particularly exciting space of wines that are under-discovered, underestimated, overlooked and often underpriced. They also belong up there with the most food-friendly wines in the world. Whether it's a slice of toasted sourdough drenched in olive oil, a salad, seafood or a tangle of pasta, Soave has that gift of being a wine that has its own distinctive character (which at best can be incredibly complex) yet, at the same time, allows the food to shine.
In Soave, the single-vineyard wines have the potential to age beautifully, but the everyday wines, made to be drunk young and enjoyed in the moment, are also often wildly unappreciated. These are the wines that every great chef should have on their menus, should they want superb wines that yet don't take centre stage.
The Tamellini family has been growing wine grapes for four generations, and, like most growers in the region, sent their grapes to the co-op to be turned into cheap, branded plonk. But in 1998, brothers Gaetano and Pio Francesco became convinced that their vineyards were pretty special. They founded Tamellini, and joined the tiny band of wine producers making and bottling their own Soave.
Today they have 35 ha (86 acres) of vineyards and produce three wines, all 100% Garganega: 250,000 bottles of a straight Soave, 20,000 bottles of a single-vineyard Soave Classico (Le Bine de Costìola) and 25,000 bottles of a vintage-dated traditional-method sparkling wine. 17 ha (42 acres) are planted with 60-year-old vines trained in the traditional Veronese pergola (pictured above), and 18 ha (44 acres) are planted with 20-year-old vines trained to a modern Guyot trellis. Based on the research of Professor Teruo Higa from Japan, who specialises in the study of microorganisms in the soil, they focus on the microbial life of their soils and don't use synthetic fertilisers, systemic chemicals or pesticides. The entire harvest is hand-picked and sulphite additions are kept to a minimum.
It was their 'humble', everyday Soave that instantly caught my attention. I could not believe how much flavour and character had been packed into this bone-dry wine that had only 11.5% of alcohol. And then I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that Goedhuis & Co sell it for a mere £13.50. This wine isn't just delicious and refreshing, it doesn't just have elegant structure and perfect length, but it has so much of what I can only describe as integrity. It tastes exactly as Soave should. It is the expression of Garganega, classic, true, without winemaking frills. It is the expression of the place. And you can drink it right now, with pretty much almost anything.
Of course, their single-vineyard Le Bine de Costìola is stunning, as one would expect. But for unpresumptuous pleasure, it's the straight Soave that I would head for, without thinking twice.
It is available in Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, the USA (CA, VA), Japan, Russia, Australia, Latvia, Hong Kong and Singapore. If you can only find the 2019 or even the 2018, you won't go wrong. Tamellini have an extremely good track record and, if properly stored, the wine has the structure and fruit to hold up well for at least four or five years (if not more).
Garganega has enormous potential – see here for more on this interesting grape variety.
The photographs are provided and published by kind permission of Tamellini.