At the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting in San Francisco last week, I was so pleased to meet the charming Dario Pieropan, 4th generation winemaker of the Pieropan estate in Soave, about a 20-30 minute drive east of Verona. Soave, home to the iconic white wine made from garganega, is an important controlled appellation of origin (DOC) in Italy. With its 16,625 acres, it is the third largest DOC producer in all of Italy, and one of its largest exporters of wine. Soave is dominated by large cooperative wineries who make great everyday wines. And then there are the classic family-owned estates like Pieropan who have been producing Soave from the “Classico” zone since the 19th century.
These producers not only have a long tradition of winemaking, but also the personality of wines from specific estate vineyards. This is in contrast to the cooperatives who buy grapes from members’ multiple vineyards and blend them to make a consistent quality wine. At the tasting last week, Dario brought two single-vineyard Soave Classico DOC from 2009, La Rocca and Calvarino, each grown on different soils and yielding distinctly different wines. La Rocca is slightly more full-bodied with citrus and tropical fruit and a hint of almonds while Calvarino is more floral with classic lemon flavors and mineral finish.
Pieropan’s Calvarino Soave Classico DOC is one of its flagship wines, exported for over 40 years. Calvarino is a core vineyard acquired in 1901. The vines, ranging in age from 30-60 years, are planted in volcanic tufaceous and basaltic soils which gives freshness to the wine. The vineyard is is named after the “calvary” because of the tortuous terrain, but the wine is anything but. Dario ferments the wine in fiberglass-lined cement vats, followed by aging on the fine lees for a year to yield a fragrant, light-bodied and elegant wine.
In addition to the range of Soave Classico wines and a handful of relatively new red wines, Pieropan makes a sweet Recioto di Soave DOCG called Le Colombare. It is made with 100% garganega grapes that are dried in lofts for about five months to concentrate the sugars, similar to the method used in neighboring Valpolicella with the red corvina grapes. We enjoyed the 2006 after a wonderful dinner at favorite restaurant Trattoria al Pompiere in Verona, with cheeses such as Monte Veronese aged in Amarone wine.
I have positive food memories of Pieropan because it was one of the many brands we paired with our delicious meals in Verona, all of them perfect examples of Veneto wines. It helped that all of the wines were hand-selected by local Paola Vagnoli, PhD, the Lallemand fermentation expert well-known in Italy, California and beyond. Without someone like Paola, your best bet is to know the important producers like Pieropan. The wines are imported by Empson USA.
Food and wine pairing with Soave
Soave wines are incredibly versatile – light-bodied, crisp and relatively low in alcohol, with the best examples showing a savoriness from the unique volcanic soils of the region. Since we are approaching spring, here is a regional white asparagus recipe from the Veneto tourism board that would pair well with Soave.
Fried asparagus and fish
- 1 kg of nase (chondrostoma genei) small, freshwater fish. Other small fish such as cleaned mullet, fresh sardines or anchovies can also be used.
- 1 kg of white asparagus
- Oil for deep-frying
- 2 egg yolks
- Plain flour for dredging the fish
- Salt and pepper
Steam and cool the asparagus. Beat the yolks with a few drops of vinegar or white wine and lemon. Dip the asparagus into the egg mixture and fry. Dredge the fish in the flour and fry in the same oil. Enjoy while warm.
The Venetians recommend sprinkling a few drops of vinegar on the fried fish as a contrast to the asparagus.
Credit: “A Taste of Veneto” published 2008 by Veneto Tourism. www.veneto.to