Soave and the Foods of Venice and the Veneto
Soave is the white wine of Venice and the Veneto and is the subject of our Report #35 The Wines of Soave. Soave is one of the world’s most food friendly wines. It is an ideal white wine for pairing with both simple and more complex dishes because of its high natural acidity and low alcohol. In this article we focus on pairing Soave with dishes of Venice and the Veneto.
There are two major types of Soave for pairing with food. The Soave DOC wines and the wines of Soave Classico and Soave Superiore. These different types of Soave are summarized below:
Soave DOC offers light floral bouquets (white flowers) and flavors of orchard fruit, hay, citrus and pear. Simple Soave works best as an aperitif or quaffing wine and should be consumed young and fresh. Soaves which spend time on the lees can often stand up to light fare such as grilled sea food, chicken and fish-based pastas. Soaves are good value, but not as interesting as Soave Classico and Soave Superiore.
Soave Classico and Soave Superiore show a lot more complexity, structure and refinement than simple Soave. Floral bouquets are followed by slightly salty, yellow and orchard fruit flavors, herbs, almond, fennel, minerals and a slight bitterness on the finish. Wines sourced from hillside volcanic soils reveal complex aromas and flavors of smoke, herbs, and minerals and are able to stand up to dishes with a lot of flavor because of their complexity and structure. When Soave Classico is fermented in oak, the wood tend to dominate the fruit when young but becomes better integrated with time in the bottle. These are great food wines for game birds, roast duck and pork.
For centuries, Venice’s Rialto market served as the city’s commercial hub for bankers, grain traders, butchers, and fishermen. The food of Venice is based on the fish and shellfish that are found in the Adriatic and in the Venetian lagoon. It also consists of magnificent dishes of poultry and small game, (meats do not whet the Venetian appetite), the fruits and vegetables of outlying islands, farms of the hinterlands, and herbs and spices from around the world. The bitterness of radicchio, the sweet and sour of many marinades, and the pungency of olives and anchovies are all part of the Venetian table. Venice’s location at the edge of Italy’s largest agricultural plain, drained by a vast river system, has given it rice. Arborio rice (risotto) is as essential to the Venetian cuisine as it is to the dishes of the Piedmont and Friuli. And so is polenta; the Venetians were the first to turn corn from the New World into this staple.
Fish is central to the Venetian table, and Soave is a perfect accompaniment to baccalà (dried, salted codfish), red mullet, and cuttlefish. Baccalà is commonly mixed with oil into a delicate, delicious cream called Baccalà Mantecato that is eaten as an appetizer or a first course. Other Cod dishes are Baccalà alla Vicentina, a slow-cooking stew-like dish that includes potatoes, celery and milk. Seppioline (cuttle-fish) and risotto with black squid ink also pair nicely with all Soave. The Soave Superiore, with its extra punch of alcohol are ideal for all fried fish and vegetables as well as pasta dishes covered in white sauces that have a base of boiled fish or greens like asparagus.
Soave is also a terrific accompaniment to shellfish. Try it with Scampi alla Veneziana, boiled Venetian shrimp served with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. It also pairs beautifully with Scampetti con Polenta, small shrimps with polenta, Scota de Cappe Caparossi, large clams cooked with lemon and pepper, or spider crabs in oil and lemon served cold.
Soave Classico pairs well with pork, game and fowl. It is a perfect accompaniment to salty slices of prosciutto and rosy, transparent carpaccio as well as rich pork belly. It is also divine with Pollo alla Veneziana, a classic dish of chicken breasts stuffed with curd cheese, pesto and breadcrumbs, pan fried and finished a vermouth sauce with courgettes and onion. And, it goes well with Pollastro in Squaquacio, a savory slow roasted chicken dish with mushrooms and tomato sauce. Soave Classicos and Soave Superiores pair especially well with sliced duck breast.
Pasta is not as popular in the Veneto and Venice as it is elsewhere in Italy. However, there are some very popular Venetian pasta dishes that are also beautifully paired with Soave and Soave Classico. Risi e Bisi (rice and peas) is the most famous Venetian rice dish. Pasta e Fagioi (pasta and beans) is a characteristic first course in the Veneto. Bigoli (thick and coarse spaghetti made of whole wheat) is the traditional Venetian pasta and is served in a sauce of sardines or anchovies as is Spaghetti alle Vongole (pasta with baby clams). Both dishes need a big flavored, well-structured Soave. Rice on the other hand, is the mainstay on the Venetian menu and is cooked in a variety of ways. Soave Classico and Soave Superiore work well with Risotto in Nero di Sepia, a popular Venetian dish of risotto or vermicelli (long, thin noodles) with black squid ink.
Recioto di Soave, being a sweet wine, is typically drunk with another local treat, the Pandoro of Verona. The roundness and persistent aromatic qualities of the wine also render it perfect for pairing with semi-aged cheese like Monte Veronese. Amaretto pudding also pairs beautifully with Recioto di Soave.
While Soave pairs beautifully with these Venetian dishes, it is sufficiently versatile to pair with dishes elsewhere. Try Soave with moderately spiced Asian cuisine and you will be amazed at how well they go together.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler