Skip to main content

Soave Used To Be The Most Popular Italian White Wine in The U.S. Here’s How It Has Changed

About fifty years ago, Soave was the most popular Italian wine in the states. For a hot minute, the white even outsold Chianti.

Those were the days. Today, the northern Italian wine is more obscure stateside, tucked away in bottle shop aisles and on restaurant by-the-glass lists. This isn’t to say to it’s not worth tracking down, though, as the workhorse white is great on its own or paired with Italian dishes like gnocchi or squid-ink pasta. 

Related Videos

Soave is a regional reference, not a grape one. There’s a medieval commune by the same name that’s home to about 7,000 people. The wine is made from a handful of approved varieties, including Verdicchio and Garganega. The latter must be at least 70% of the wine to take on the Soave title.

In its native Italy in the province of Verona, the Garganega grape does especially well, a late-ripening grape that boasts thick enough skins to fend off the incessant mist of the region. The Po Valley is famous for such humidity, especially in the fall when the grapes ripen and are most susceptible to disease pressure.

JP Valery/Unsplash

The Soave Classico region was designated such back in 1927. Generally, the soils of the west side of the region are limestone-based, producing bigger, fruit-driven wines. On the opposite side, the soils are volcanic, leading to wines that can show a more focused minerality. No red wine is produced in Soave (although Valpolicella is made nearby) and the area has several co-ops that vinify wine together.

Soave is generally light-to-medium bodied, with fruity flavors that fall somewhere between a Pinot Gris and a Chardonnay. Many suggest the mass-produced options offer nutty flavors and even a slight bitterness. Producers have pushed lighter, more approachable takes lately, making for trim wines that show melon and citrus and pair well with summer salads and lighter pastas.

Critics of the wine point to the region’s rather large boundaries and some producers’ tendency to push for heavy crop loads. The region absorbed some lesser growing zones during the height of Soave’s popularity to keep up with demand and focused more on quantity than quality. But today’s Soave benefits from two things: Established old vines in the areas where it truly flourishes, and the present generation of winemakers, many of whom are looking to make memorable, contemplative wines.

Like a lot of tasty Italian white wines, Soave usually shows a touch of brininess. It’s part of what makes many of the country’s whites so seafood-friendly. A slight chill is recommended, especially during the warmer summer months, so pop a bottle in the fridge for thirty minutes before you pour.

Here are a few to look out for and enjoy:

Dama del Rovere Tremenalto Soave Classico

Dama del Rovere Tremenalto Soave Classico

Made from high-elevation fruit, this Soave is zippy yet refined. There’s a concentration to the flavors thanks to the windy nature of the vineyards, with lemon, crushed flowers, and a touch of salt rounding it all out.

Cantina di Monteforte Soave Superiore

Cantina di Monteforte Soave Superiore

With peach and almond flavors, this Soave is made using even parts oak and stainless steel. It’s a wine that grasps for shellfish or a nice wedge of brie.

Garganuda Soave

Garganuda Soave

This wine is assembled by one of Italy’s most respected vintners in Stefano Menti. Fermented with native yeast and made in cement from biodynamic and organic vineyards sites, the wine is lively and layered.

Roccolo Grassi La Broia Soave

Roccolo Grassi La Broia Soave

Finely balanced between fruity and floral, this Soave is aged on the lees in Slovenian oak. It is very approachable and plays well with everything from mushroom risotto to Cobb salad.

Editors' Recommendations

What’s Valpolicella? Exploring One of Italy’s Most Famous Wine Regions

Valpolicella is one of Italy’s most famous winegrowing regions, but most of us stateside know very little about it.
To begin, it resides in the north close to Venice in the Verona region, near Alto Adige. Winemaking goes back thousands of years, all the way to the ancient Greeks. It remains a cornerstone of the region today, based predominantly the approved grape varieties of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara.
Valpolicella’s most famous boozy export is likely amarone, a hefty wine made from grape skins. This stuff comes in hot, often surpassing the 15% ABV mark and showing deep, concentrated fruit tones with very little acid. The fruit tends to get harvested later, when the rains come in, making disease pressure a real issue. Fending off potential faults and flaws is one of the biggest challenges in making amarone.
Strangely enough, Valpolicella is also known for the opposite — a bright and fresh red wine that begs for summer weather. It’s the kind of feathery yet flavorful red you can chill and should accompany you often as you bring fresh produce, seafood, and poultry out to your grill.
Much of this freshness comes from the climate. Neighboring Lake Garda and the Adriatic Sea keep conditions pretty temperate. The “classico” zone resides to the north in the many folds of the Monti Lessini topography, cooler still thanks to winds coming in from the Alps. An estimated 40% of the region’s wine production occurs here.
Some of the freshness is owed to the cellar style, which is somewhat inspired by nouveau (famous for Beaujolais). Fermentations are cool, aging is limited, and the resulting wines are light and fruity on the palate, showing things like sour cherry and pomegranate. Intriguingly, they tend to manage to hold on to some Old World-ness as well, in the form of moderate earth and spice.
In addition to the above grapes, there’s also Barbera, Sangiovese, and Bigolona. More intrepid vintners are looking to bring back native varieties like Oseleta as well, adding another voice to the local terroir conversation. A sweeter style, dubbed recioto, is also quite popular in Valpolicella. The name refers to the ear-like sections at the top of some fruit clusters, which tend to be the richest as they get the most sunshine and produce the most sugar.
While young, another popular Valpolicella style is Ripasso. It emerged in the late 20th Century and involves bringing in some of the pomace (or, fruit pressing remains) or partially-dried grapes from the recioto and amarone styles during maceration. It offers more structure and body without overwhelming the palate. It's become more and more popular since the 1980s and in 2009, ripasso earned true DOC recognition. 
You don't have to switch over entirely to whites and Roses during the summer stretch and Valpolicella is tasty proof. Here are a few to try:

Tenuta Sant’Antonio "Nanfrè" Valpolicella

Read more
What’s Verdejo? Exploring Spain’s Ancient White Wine Varietal
Sauvignon Blanc white wine on a table

Wine remains an incredible frontier with new discoveries around every corner. Some varieties, like Verdejo, are tied to one specific part of the planet and therefore can remain relatively hidden. But that doesn’t mean the Spanish white isn’t worth seeking out.
Fans of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc should pay attention to this tasty white. In Rueda, in north central Spain, it’s world-famous, accounting for the vast majority of plantings. It was introduced in the 11th century and enjoyed a long span of vitality before phylloxera put a squeeze on the entire European wine scene. But Verdejo crawled back to life, regaining some notoriety in the 1970s and receiving its own denomination status a decade later.
Today, the grape is beloved for its citrus and nutty elements. While fresh, it’s a white that can stand to age a few years, developing added smoothness and texture over time. The Spanish love to harvest the fruit at night, which keeps the clusters cool and can prevent oxidation in the cellar. It’s prone to mildew, but much of the land where it’s planted in Spain is subject to soothing Atlantic Ocean winds which ventilate the rows and keep the rot at bay.
To put Verdejo in perspective, there’s quite a bit of the stuff, it’s just found a real niche in Spain. But as Chardonnay is to Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand, Verdejo is to Rueda. More than 70 producers operate out of Rueda, a number that is bested only by fellow Spanish regions Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Producers generally opt for clean wines fermented and aged in stainless steel.
In some settings, like the granular soils in and around Segovia, 150-year-old rootstock still produces stunning Verdejo fruit. And, as is the case with so many regions, the newest generation is experimenting and toying with tradition, employing new techniques and equipment to show a different side of the age-old white grape.
Why Verdejo? Well, as the weather warms and we prepare lighter fare for our meals, it’s an ideal running mate. The old wine adage is that if you’re eating something you’d squeeze some fresh lime onto, Verdejo should be there, too. Which is quite rational, given the wine’s zesty punch. What’s interesting about Verdejo, though, is while light and bright, it’s also pretty full-bodied. It’s rarely flabby, but it is a big-boned white with more weight on the palate than many of its sibling varieties.
In addition to citrus, the favor profile tends to include things like melon rind, almond, stone fruit, freshly cut grass, and even a pinch of anise.
Ready to dive in? Here are a few worth checking out:

Barco del Corneta Verdejo

Read more
A Quick Guide to Iranian Wine (and What You Can Get in the U.S.)
Azari Vineyards

Way, way back, the city of Shiraz was a place known for its wine. The vibrant Iranian town produced and enjoyed a fair bit of the stuff, gaining a vast reputation for fermented fruit.
The Persian region is home to some of the oldest evidence of enology on the planet. Vessels caked in tartaric acid, a byproduct of winemaking, have been found that date back to 5400 BC. They were discovered in the Zagros Mountains, the rugged range of peaks that makes up Iran’s western border.
Such rich history means plenty of corresponding mythology. One of the best tales involves a heartbroken girl rejected by the king. Suicidal, she ate rotten table grapes, seeking to end her life. As you might guess, she survived, and even got a little drunk. She reported her findings to the king and a glorious wine scene was born.
It’s estimated that until the revolution of 1979, as many as 300 wineries operated within Iran’s borders. Today, the industry is mostly forbidden, save for a few non-Muslim operations. However, there are almost certainly a few clandestine operations (producers, importers, etc.) as well, given that some reports say Iranians still drink a modest amount of wine per year, illegal as it may be. And there are the reports of the well-to-do, partying on weekends and even making some of their own wine at home.
So while the wine scene has been very limited in Iran for the last 41 years, the region as a whole over the course of civilization has largely embraced the stuff. It shows up in old paintings and literature (although the word wine has been outlawed in modern writing). And it makes sense, given the climate and elevation. Shiraz is set up quite high, giving it favorable diurnal shifts and a good grape-growing aspect.
While some suggest that today’s Shiraz wine (made from Syrah) owes its name in part to the historic central Iranian city, there’s not much to the claim. In fact, much of the wine that indigenous to the Shiraz area and enjoyed by its people was white, ranging from dry to sweet. It was typically fermented in amphora, both commercially and by families at home.
It’s pretty much impossible to taste anything alcoholic that’s made in Iran today. There are rumors of renegade winemakers smuggling Iranian-grown fruit across borders and making small amounts to be shipped to select spots, but very little evidence to back that up. Fortunately, there are other creative ways to taste a bit of the Persian tradition. Several wineries in the States were launched by Iranians and look to craft something that honors their homeland, not to mention its prehistoric relationship with wine.
A few to look out for:


Read more