The place was Obicà Mozzarella Bar Pizza e Cucina on Sunset Boulevard, where a small group had gathered to taste the wines of Anselmi. This winery is in Soave in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Chilling in ice buckets for lunch were three Anselmi white wines.
Presenting them was Lisa Anselmi (at the top), who was on a quick tour of the United States. Her father, Roberto, and brother, Tommaso, are the winemakers.
The primary grape used in Soave's white wines is Garganega. A Soave wine must contain at least 70% Garganega, Anselmi said, and one that we were going to taste was 100% Garganega. This was the Anselmi Capitel Croce 2013 (above), which spent time in French oak, emerging with full, fruity flavors and a deeper color than the other two, which saw no oak.
San Vincenzo, which accounts for 75% of Anselmi’s production, is composed of 80% Garganega, 10% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Although Anselmi calls it “an entry level wine,” the 2015 San Vincenzo wound up in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines for 2016.
Next came the 2013 Capitel Foscarino, a single vineyard estate wine fermented and vinified in stainless steel. This wine is 90% Garganega and 10% Chardonnay. The best pairing is with Soave's local white asparagus, Anselmi said.
The 2013 Capitel Croce followed. “The idea is to give three different styles of the territory,” Anselmi said, two of them from single vineyards. The Foscarino vineyard is on volcanic soil, located in the hills and higher than the Croce vineyard, where soils are limestone. The two vineyards are one air mile apart.
Capitel Croce could age as long as 10 years, Anselmi said. She recommends it with, among other dishes, mushroom risotto. And that is what she ordered for lunch, Obicà’s risotto al tartufo nero (above). The strong mushroom flavors paired well with the rich wine.
I asked Anselmi if the risotto was as good as risotto in Italy. She said yes, adding that Italian food in America is getting better every year.
Then a sweet treat came out for dessert, Anselmi's I Capitelli from 2011. The grapes—all Garganega--have to be perfect for this wine, so it is not made very year, Anselmi said. The next vintage released will be 2015.
This is not a late harvest wine. To produce the concentrated flavor, the grapes are stored for 2 1/2 months in a room where humidity, temperature and air are monitored 24 hours a day. After that come barrel fermentation and a year of aging. The back label says "passito bianco," meaning a white wine made by this method.
The Anselmi winery was founded in 1948 by Lisa Anselmi's grandfather, Almerino Anselmi. In those days, Soave producers turned out huge quantites of inexpensive wine. The Anselmi winery was no exception, producing 15 million bottles a year.
Then Anselmi, a hard-working visionary, decided to switch to quality production, buying vineyards and focusing on serious wines from estate grapes. Slowly, the Anselmi reputation began to grow.
Today, the winery produces 750,000 to 800,000 bottles a year. The grapes come from 40 hectares of its own land and 30 more that are rented (a hectare is about 2.47 acres). The one red wine is a small production of Cabernet Sauvignon that is not exported to the United States.
Serious Soave wines still face a challenge. Eighty per cent of Soave production today is controlled by cooperatives, Anselmi said at the lunch. These produce large amounts of cheap wine. Of the acres under cultivation, only 10% are in the hands of quality producers.
Anselmi Soaves are not stratospherically priced. The suggested retail for San Vincenzo is $20, but less online. The most expensive would be I Capitelli, but dessert wines of this caliber are always pricey.
So if you see a really cheap Soave, hesitate before you buy. It’s not the bargain you may think it is.