Certain producers stand out in their wine regions, producing wines head and shoulders above their counterparts. Leonildo Pieropan’s estate would surely fall into this category – Pieropan is, as Ian d’Agata once commented on vinous.com, ‘the dean of all Soave producers’. To many people, Soave was a simple, straightforward, early drinking, if somewhat anonymous Italian white – not so when you taste the wines of Pieropan, which are capable of ageing over 20 years and build terrific complexity.
By way of background, Soave is a wine region comprising hillside vineyards to the east of Verona, east of Valpolicella in fact, that extends over 4,500 hectares. The finer examples of Soave are made from an indigenous Italian variety called Garganega, though wine laws permit it to be blended with 30% of either Chardonnay or Trebbiano di Soave (actually more often known as Verdicchio). The problem with Soave is there is a lot of decidedly average wine produced.
The real exception is the wines of Pieropan – this estate was founded in 1880 and now rests in the hands of the fourth generation. The wine that steals the headlines at Pieropan is La Rocca; a wine produced from a terraced, south-west facing vineyard on the Monte Rocchetta hill, just below the medieval castle that dominates the village of Soave. The vineyard rises to 300 metres above sea level and is characterised by a chalky, clay base.
The first vintage of La Rocca ever made was in 1978 and it has since become a standard bearer for the region. The Pieropans opt to harvest their fruit later than most, sometimes towards the end of October and invariably harvest consists of two passes through the vineyard to harvest only fully ripe grapes. This, along with the microclimate and location, goes someway to explain the character traits of La Rocca with its scented aromas and soft stone fruit on the palate. This is a whole world removed from anodyne Soave – in fact there appears to be little connection to many examples of commercial Soave. This is highly individual. To build greater complexity, the Pieropans allow some skin contact once the fruit is crushed in the cellars, rather than simply crushing and running the juice off for fermentation. After fermentation, the wine is aged in barrels of differing capacity for around a year (500 to 2000 litres) and crucially the wine remains on its lees for this period, all the while picking up complexity. Nothing is hurried at Pieropan – as you may gather, their approach has refined over the years and underscores the quality and complexity of these distinctive wines.
I had the opportunity to taste a range of samples sent to me at home and the 2018 La Rocca immediately stood out – the 2018 vintage was a large one for the region, the summer was hot but rainfall was timely and the vineyards benefited from fresh winds, so there is a good balance of ripe fruit and freshness in the resultant wines. I tasted the 2018 alongside the 2017 (a much trickier vintage in the Veneto) and the difference in concentration was significant. Please see my full note below. At this stage no major critics have reviewed the 2018 vintage of La Rocca.
2018 Soave 'La Rocca', Pieropan
£120 per 6 bottle case in bond
A mid-gold hue in the glass, the aromas are complex with hints of citrus oil and gentle spice overlaying fruit notes of pear, baked apple and white peach. The juicy peach-like fruit on the palate is striking, this has a roundness and layered depth that is distinctively a Pieropan signature. There is almost a Marsanne-like opulence here, something like oatmeal and vanilla, gently creamy, but then this tangy, orange-zest like fruit bursts through with a fine, bright, mineral-infused acidity. Notes of exotic spice come through on a long, positive finish. This is absolutely fascinating to taste and I would be interested to see its evolution over time, having enjoyed some mature La Rocca at 10 years of age. Drink 2021-2028+ (SL)
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