Recioto di Soave

Appassimento at CoffeleAppassimento at Coffele

Recioto di Soave is what made Soave famous. A sweet wine that would have kept and traveled well at a time when dry table wines spoiled easily, it was referred to in writing as early as the 5th century A.D. In more modern times, André Jullien’s 1816 Topographie de Tous les Vignobles Connus referred to Recioto as “a well-regarded vin santo”. This article expands upon and complements the discussion of Recioto di Soave in our recently published Report #35: The Wines of Soave.

A straw wine made of dried grapes, today’s Recioto di Soave must be made of at least 70 percent Garganega with up to 30 percent Trebbiano di Soave. An 18th century manual describing how to make Recioto lays out the procedure basically followed today.

Making Recioto. The grapes are usually carefully selected, harvested by hand and put into a special drying room (fruttaio) with good natural ventilation where they are dried (the appassimento process) for 5-6 months. They are then gently pressed and fermented and aged in oak barriques for up to a year. In some cases (e.g., the Pieropan Le Colombare), the grapes are also infected with botrytis, or noble rot, during the drying period. The resulting wine is sweet with high residual sugar (130+ g/l) but also balanced, with good acidity. A Spumante Recioto di Soave is also made in a Charmat type process, resulting in a sweet, effervescent wine with 60-90 g/l residual sugar.

While many producers make Recioto di Soave, they do so in small quantities. About 1400 hectoliters are made annually, accounting for just one-third of one percent of the wine produced in all of Soave. Much less makes its way out of Italy. Very few producers export Recioto di Soave. Fortunately, those who do are among the region’s very best producers.

Recioto di Soave was officially recognized in 1998 when it was awarded DOCG status. Today Recioto di Soave Classico has the same appellation borders as Soave Superiore: grapes must be grown on hillsides in the Soave Superiore area, which includes Soave Classico (in brown on the map) and Soave Colli Scaligeri (in green on the map). When produced within the Soave Classico appellation, it is called Recioto di Soave Classico DOCG, while it is called Recioto di Soave DOCG when produced within the Colli Scaligeri. Recioto di Soave must have a minimum 12% alcohol and a minimum of 70 g/l residual sugar.

Drinking Recioto. Recioto di Soave comes in different styles depending on how raisined the grapes are at pressing, how long the wine spends in oak and the age of the oak vessel, and the quality of the fruit itself. All Reciotos are sweet with dried fruit and caramel notes, but some are more so than others. The Coffele Le Sponde is lighter and fresher than most with bright acidity that offsets the sweetness and gives the sensation of dryness on the palate. At the other extreme, the El Vegro Vigne delle Fatte gives a strong sensation of brown sugar sweetness that evokes pecan pie. Other Reciotos we tasted fall between these two ends of the spectrum. Which style one prefers is simply a matter of taste, but we prefer the high acidity and elegance that is similar to what one finds in the other great sweet wines of the world, as we wrote in our Report #27 Sweet Wines of the World.

Modern consumers often don’t know how to drink a sweet wine like Recioto di Soave. The classic pairing in the Veneto is with Pandoro di Verona, the Venetian version of panettone. But it can be consumed as one would any good quality sweet wine. It’s best with cheeses, nuts, patés, and not very sweet desserts, like shortbread cookies or an English (not American) style fruit cake (or, better yet, an Italian variant—pan di spagna alle albicocche). Sweet wines are often best appreciated served before the meal when palates are fresh and can best discern the wine’s nuanced flavors.

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