The October morning air was still very crisp as I pulled up in front of the ancient walls of the Chateau de Soave, and somewhere inside were the winemakers Pieropan (Societa Agricola-Agricultural Company).
You see the GPS had taken me around in circles three times and failed to find via Camuzzoni number three which must have been inside the city pre-1890 when Pierpoan was established as a producer.
So I chose to take local directions by hoofing it across the street to the local bar where 10am coffee drinking and large tumblers of white wine were being taken with gusto – a sort of Soave tradition by the male locals.
I mustered my limited Italian to order “caffe lungo” and ask directions to cantina Pierpoan inside.
That done, and with the enthusiastic advice of a friend of the winery, I struck out up the cobblestone street looking closely at the numbers.
You see it is un-Italian to be too flashy; you have to search these places out with micro-itinerary planning or run the risk of feeling quite lost.
In an understated entrance I came across the Pieropan plaque. This opened to a small piazza: one side the office and home, other side accepting grapes to be crushed and gurgling juice pumped inside to awaiting fermenters.
Soave occupies 1000 hectares of geographically defined ground (DOCG) in a region between Verona and Vincenza, most north of the highway between these two important industrial and agricultural towns.
And as I was about to discover, described ridiculously on its labels when the cultures of conservative regional bureaucracy and innovative internationally-focussed wine minds clash.
In this case Pieropan versus the Soave DOCG (supposedly says guaranteed quality yet is meaningless to a consumer, and confusing). Winemaking and packaging determine quality, not old-fashioned wine organisations.
The vinescape is mainly emerging south-facing chalky hills almost totally planted to vines on terraces due to steepness, at elevations and slopes of 250-300 metres, then there is a gentle drop to the plains below, and 100km further on the extraordinary sea-city of Venezia (Venice).
I met Doctor Andrea Pieropan who manages the company’s vineyards and grape supply. He has wine skills from studies at a college in Trento in the Adige followed by doctoral work at Padova (Padua) Agricultural School focussing on viticulture (seen below in front of garganega harvested that day).
“Our main grape is garganega; it’s a late ripener, and before global warming we found often we would be harvesting late into October, but not so since the late ’90s. Now every year differs; we have to be very active managing the direct effects of the sun,” says Andreas.
“Around June we consider leaf removal: in 2003 though we needed protection so no removal occurred but in 2005 we took off north-facing leaves to allow the vine humidity to drop.” Management is no longer prescriptive as the elements of DOCG expect.
Pieropan own 40 hectares of vines; separated into 24 different terroirs and plots. Two, Calvarino and La Rocca, are sufficiently different to be bottled separately as individual vineyards (tested each year for elevated quality before bottling one). La Rocca achieves sufficient alcohol and flavour weight to be aged longer in barrel before bottling.
Harvesting commenced on September 6-7 this year with Trebbiano di Soave; this grape being allowed as a 30% blend in basic Soave, giving it the nervousness due to higher malic acid (racy acidity).
As I visited in mid-October, a significant quantity of grapes were yet to be harvested. By comparison there were few vineyards around with grapes hanging: it sort of supports the Pieropan suggestion that too much Soave is harvested under-ripe.
Pieropan are noted for high quality Soave. That is because Andreas is pushing the envelope (as in Aussie thinking) by taking the garganega grapes to full ripeness when fruit flavour starts to appear; around mid, late 11s Baume (over 12% alcohol finished wine) and more.
“Basically gargenega is a neutral grape and the wine light bodied with excising acidity; so the nose from early harvesting (typical DOCG expectations) is also neutral, and the wines consequently lack aroma, ripeness and flavour extension. As ripeness rises, the aroma appears, the grapes are not rich, but the pink/apricot colours appear (see picture below) and full flavour has resulted,“ says Andreas.
I cannot but reflect on a grape called semillon grown in Australia with some similar characteristics, and one which besets its owners with similar marketing dilemmas.
Pieropan Soave range 12-13%, with the single vineyard wines highest as you would expect as flavour intensity rises.
Pieropan Soave Classic 2009, 12%, (88), USD 14, has colour purity in the straw-pale green direction, enticing nose of fresh flowers following into an austere, lean, lime but lengthy acidity, and nuttiness from both fruit ripeness and yeast lees aging. Andreas suggests that optimal flavour/acid balance will come in 4-5 months, which is when the 2010 version should start to trickle into the market after February next year.
Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino 2008, 12.5% (89) USD 19.50, shows a tough more straw and fuller colour, has nice honey on the nose from ripeness and time in bottle, then a fuller palate than the standard bottling, more richness and a lovely
fine tail of acidity which cements the style of the wine. From a vineyard purchased in 1900 though first made in 1971, it’s a boomer which likes slight bottle age-Andreas suggests 2-3 year plus is the optimum spread.
Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca 2008, 13% (91) USD 30, (label designates single vineyard at a US request), has generous straw colours, again honeyed for this vintage, it’s the super-ripeness showing, much fatter in texture from oak aging and maturation, quite a rich, substantial wine. Wine is extended aged in older 500-2000 litre casks with lees to develop the enticing nose and textural palate effects.
This bottling bears the 30th anniversary badge of this wine first made in 1978. At lunch the 2006 smelt and tasted remarkably similar, emphatic with the honey but still very steely in palate acidity. A good thing.
The company ships wine to 34 countries and now eight receive their white wines under screw cap. Of course our famous DOCG friends outlaw such a closure; so the more enlightened markets are not being dealt a poor hand from the outdated choice.
Unfortunately these exciting Pieropan wines will not always present so well under cork in the traditional markets and for the rope followers in Asia. The real sting is that all 375 ml bottlings of all styles come in screw cap! There is some inside knowledge to exploit. www.pieropan.it
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