Floral Italian whites perfect for spring sipping

Soave Castello

ISACS is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourmet, a leading gourmet digital (www.enjoygourmet.com.cn) and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books and is a wine consultant to governments, wine regions and organizations. He also hosts wine events for leading organizations and companies throughout China. Contact John via jcolumn@enjoygourmet.com.

The earliest vestiges of spring are already manifesting themselves in small and beautiful ways. Perhaps the most evocative image of spring is flowers. Today’s iDeal section explores the use of flowers in seasonal cooking, while in this column I’ll take a different track and examine floral qualities in wines.

The overall quality of wines has never been higher than it is today. Modern technology, science and the desire to achieve success in competitive international markets all play important ameliorating roles. As part of this trend to quality, modern winemakers understand the importance of making aromatic wines.

In professional wine tasting we make a distinction between the aromas and bouquet of a wine. Aroma refers to special or unique smells that are typical of the variety, while bouquet refers to the wider spectrum of smells that may be the result of fermentation, oak aging or other winemaking steps. In casual wine tastings, it’s perfectly alright to use the terms interchangeably.

Whether you refer to it as an aroma or bouquet, one of the most desirable sensations you can find in a glass of wine is scents of flowers. Floral scents are caused by compounds known as monoterpenes, or terpenes as they are sometimes called. When you smell flowers in wine what you’re actually sensing is the vaporized scents of monoterpenes and other similar aroma compounds.

For example, rose scents are often found in Gewurztraminer whites and Gamay, Nebbiolo and Pinto Noir red wines. Citrus blossoms aromas are common Riesling, Viognier and Chardonnay whites while Grenache, Syrah and Mourvendre red wines may offer lavender qualities. White flowers like Lilly are common in many white wines including Torrontes, Muscadet, Semillon and Pinot Grigio as well as one of my favorite wines from Italy.

One of the most charming and beautiful towns in Italy is Soave. Located about 30 minutes by car from Verona, this walled Medieval fortress town is surrounded by rolling hills covered in vineyards. In addition to captivating scenery, this town and the surrounding lands is home to one of Italy’s most iconic wines.

Soave is a white wine that’s predominantly made with the Garganega grape. Up to 30 percent Trebbiano di Soave or Chardonnay is also permitted in the blend. Once upon a time during the latter half of the 20th century, Soave was Italy’s wine star successfully exporting wines to major markets. In particular, Soave was a runaway success in the US where for a time it was the most popular Italian wine. Due to overproduction and also the ascension of varietal wines like Pinot Grigio, New World Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, Soave lost much of its luster. Today, thanks to ever improving quality and greater consumer sophistication the wine is poised for a comeback.

Over 90 percent of Soave production is made by large cooperatives, however the real wines gems of the region are small family-owned wineries that make some of Italy’s most compelling white wines.

The large producers have definitely upped their game and are making quite solid white wines, but the best wines are still mostly made by small family-owned wineries in the traditional Classico region. These wines combine generous fruit, freshness, texture and complexity making them exceedingly food-friendly and among the best white wines to pair with Chinese cuisine. Whether you’re savoring delicate dim sum treats, Fujian seafood or weightier sauced Shanghainese shellfish or fish dishes, Soave wines make excellent companions. They also pair synergistically with a wide range of Chinese pork and chicken dishes. The generous ripe and fruity nature of the wines mean they can be successfully paired with mild to moderately spicy Sichuan and Hunan favorites.

Unfortunately, there’s a dearth of Soave wines in China that even extends to the nation’s most sophisticated market, Shanghai. Many local wine importers and buyers still aren’t up-to-date on the exciting new wines of Soave.

Fortunately, a few of the best family run wineries have wines in Shanghai including my favorite. Cantina del Castello is owned and managed by the Stocchetti family. I’ve visited this winery on several occasions and I’m always impressed by the wines and passion of owner, Arturo Stocchetti, his wife and daughter. Relaxing in the quiet and picturesque town of Soave with the Medieval fortress looming over you while drinking Arturo’s beautifully crafted Soave wines is a quintessentially mouthwatering and beautiful Italian experience.

Shanghai wine lovers can find two Cantina del Castello wines, the flagship Castello Soave Classico DOC, a young and fresh white with lovely minerality and hints of white flower and the Soave Classico Pressoni DOC, a more structured and complex wine with tropical fruit flavors as well as mineral and floral aromatics. Other recommended Soave Classico producers that have wines available in Shanghai are Pieropan and Speri. One excellent Soave producer from outside the Classico region you can find in our fair city is La Cappuccina. Producers better known for their Valpolicella wines like Masi, Satori and Tommasi also make Soave wines.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Varieties: Garganega is the star varietal of Soave and must comprise at least 70 percent of the blend with Trebbiano di Soave and/or Chardonnay making up the rest.

Key term: In wine talk the term refreshing refers the acidity in a wine that balances the fruit and cleanses the palate.

Shanghai Daily | By John H. Isacs | March 9, 2017, Thursday