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What our expert thought of Coffele 'Castel Cerino' Soave Classico




about this wine About this wine
 
I’m a big fan of good Soave, so I never dreamt it would take more than a year before we featured one on Decanting Club.  Indeed, I tasted the previous vintage of this wine a year ago, and we very nearly featured it then.  But 2014 was a very cold and wet, difficult vintage in northeast Italy – indeed in central and eastern Europe generally – so we decided to wait until the 2015 was available.
 
Vintages matter in the Veneto much more than they do in Italy’s reliably sunbaked south.  This is one of those rare Italian wine regions that produces more white than red, a testament to the cool climate.  Prosecco, Soave and lots of Pinot Grigio come from here, with Valpolicella the only significant red.
 
Soave and Valpolicella both come from the hills to the north and east of Verona, with Valpolicella at the western end, close to Lake Garda, and Soave at the eastern end, around the small town of Soave itself.  But the areas allowed for both have been expanded so far that in some places they overlap.  That expansion has also included a great deal of fertile flat land on the valley floors.
 
And therein lies the problem.  These volcanic soils are very fertile indeed, causing vines devote their energies to growth rather than to ripening grapes.  There’s plenty of water so yields are high, but the juice is diluted and underripe.  Up on the hillsides the soils are poorer and better drained, creating the slight water stress which, along with the higher sunshine exposure of south-facing slopes, induces the vines to produce smaller quantities of fully-ripened grapes.
 
Most of the growers on the plains sell their grapes direct to co-operatives, especially the giant Cantine di Soave which vinifies eight out of every ten bottles of Soave.  These are then rebranded under a huge variety of different labels, but they’re all fairly similar: thin, sharp dry whites light in colour, body and flavour.
 
This has harmed Soave’s reputation internationally, and even more at home.  Italians won’t pay more than rock-bottom prices for Soave, forcing the better producers to concentrate almost entirely on export markets.  This benefits us nicely, but the trick is to recognise those good producers.  Actually, price is a good guide; anything over £10 is likely to come from one of the top names like Pieropan, Anselmi, Prà, or Inama.
 
This one, Coffele, is less well-known because of its small size – only 25 hectares – but is every bit as good.  Family owned and run, it was the first Soave estate to be certified organic.  Organic viticulture is relatively easy in hot, dry climates, but a much more challenging proposition in Soave.  Location helps: Coffele’s south-facing vineyards occupy the magnificent hill of Castelcerino, and their exposure to the drying sun and wind reduces the risk of rot.
 
Tractors can compact the soil, which impairs drainage.  So Coffele don’t use any; instead the vineyards are ploughed by their team of eleven horses.  These are bred and kept on the estate, so they have an entirely organic diet, and their manure fertilises the vineyards after the harvest and through the winter.  During the growing season, that role is taken by a home-produced compost prepared largely from grape skins and vine cuttings.  The contrast with the highly-mechanised, intensively-sprayed vineyards of the valley floor couldn’t be more stark.
 
Castel Cerino is Coffele’s entry-level Soave, produced from vines grown at their eponymous estate in the heart of the historic Soave Classico zone.  Soave must be at least 70% Garganega, and many, like this one, are entirely so.  The terraced vineyards at Castelcerino rise from 150 to 450 metres – the highest in the whole appellation.  Consequently they ripen at different times, so picking continues throughout October (Garganega ripens late).  Several passes are made through each vineyard to select only the ripest bunches, a time-consuming technique usually reserved only for top wines.
 
The grapes are hand-harvested into small 20kg bins to ensure they arrive at the press intact.  Fermentation is in temperature-controlled stainless steel, held to below 18°C to preserve the varietal aromas.  The wine is then matured in more stainless steel tanks below 16°C.  It is racked off the lees just once and then gently filtered before bottling.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Garganega’s skins, although thin, can be quite deeply coloured when fully ripe, and examples with pre-fermentation skin contact (like Inama Foscarino) can be positively golden even in their youth.  The pallor of most Soave reflects the underripeness of the grapes.
 
Although made from ripe grapes (the label says 12.5%, which is high for Soave), this wine has not seen significant skin contact and is just on the pale side of medium.  Soave is usually described as straw-coloured; it rarely shows the green tinge of varieties like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc but this young one has just enough of that to qualify as lemon, rather than straw.
 
It has a subtle, but fine and quite complex, nose of almonds and white flowers, especially camomile, along with a herbal hint of sage.  There’s some stony citrus here too, but fruity it isn’t.
 
That stony quality continues on the dry palate, which has a positively flinty feel to it.  Obviously unoaked and initially quite light-bodied, it builds in intensity while remaining resolutely unfruity.  There are subtle hints of green apple and crunchy fresh pear, along with a generalised lemony citrus, but this is mostly about the minerals – you feel it as much as taste it.
 
There are more almonds on the saline finish, along with an intriguing spiciness that’s almost hot, although it’s not due to alcohol.  It’s long too, with a faintly drying quality despite the fresh acidity.
 
Assessment
 
It was worth waiting for the 2015!  The 2014 was delightful, but it didn’t have the intensity and structure of this wine.  That intensity comes hand-in-hand with crystalline purity and effortless elegance.  Soave’s unflashy charms are brilliantly displayed here: this is a wine that is on the light side of medium-bodied, isn’t very aromatic and certainly isn’t very fruity, yet it has a rightness about it, especially with food, that keeps you coming back for more.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium- lemon
Nose

Intensity medium-, but fine & complex

Aromas almonds, white flowers (camomile), citrus, herbs (sage)

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness fully dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium-

Intensity medium+

Flavours mineral (flint), citrus (lemon), subtle orchard fruit (green apple, green pear). Very textured.
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours salted almonds, spices (almost hot, but not from alcohol), stones. Slightly drying despite acidity.
Other notes
Obviously unoaked. Purity, intensity, elegance.


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