Savio Soares made a name for himself as a wine director in top New York restaurants, working for chefs like Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In 2002 he moved to Germany with his wife and newborn son, at which point he started importing wine to the U.S. and commuting between continents. Now, after a decade in business, he is one of the most respected purveyors of small-production wine in the States.
His wire-rimmed glasses and neatly trimmed beard recall the careful appearance of an architect. But rather than stiff, Savio's demeanor feels disarming and warm. He is quick to praise the people he works with and speaks casually about his "philosophy," which covers everything from improving hospital food to understanding minerality in wine.
Near the end of our visit he started telling a story about Loire winemaker Christian Venier. Savio's Nashville partner, Andrea Danti (whom he had already praised at length), interrupted to say they needed to go to their next appointment.
"I'm ready," Savio said with a shrug. He continued swiping a finger across his phone, looking for a photo of Venier. Then he started lauding Venier's father, who he was sure would live to 110 years old.
Andrea tapped his pen on his notebook.
"Here!" Savio said. He glanced up over his glasses and turned the screen toward us, mouth parted in a grin of admiration. "Look at this man. Look how strong." Father and son stood on a cobblestone street in front of a wall, shoulders not quite squared toward the camera, turning, their eyes crinkled in the sunlight, their faces frozen in this moment of laughter at who knows what private joke.
When he had gone, I too was smiling, unsure of what it was that made me laugh.
Wines of Savio Soares Selections
Saturday, October 29th, 3-5pm
WOODLAND WINE MERCHANT: You've said elsewhere that you're less in the wine selection business than you are in the "people selection" business. Can you elaborate?
SAVIO SOARES: Good wine is relatively easy to find. I seek to find growers that I come to admire and be proud to represent. This is seldom something I acknowledge with the first visit. Only after some time working together can I confirm the singular trace of personality and character of a truly talented grower/winemaker/partner. These are the authentic ambassadors of their region/tradition/history. They understand their soils and climates, and they respect land and people by practicing a clean viticulture. Their wines will always reflect who they are: authentic, singular, and genuine.
How did you decide to expand into Tennessee? Why now?
The answer to this is 100% linked to Andrea Danti. He is the one who made this decision! He contacted me, I liked him, and I had an impression he was serious and knew what he was doing.
I don't work with corporate-like businesses, I work with people. This goes for the growers and also for distributors I collaborate with. This is how I like to do business! This gives me a good feeling and closes the circle opened by the growers, who are viticulturists and winemakers, people who work the land and make their own wine.
I understand you split your time between New York and Germany. How does that time in Europe influence your decisions as a US importer?
I spend much more time in the US than in Europe, 65% - 35%. I moved to Germany because of 9/11 and decided to stay because of the high standard of life I could offer to my son.
I fly to Germany once a month for about two to three weeks. During this time I always take about four days to visit a wine region in one of the countries I work with in Europe. If you look at my book, about 45% is French and I go a lot to France.
This year I have been very focused on adding more Italian producers to my portfolio, and so far I have been to Italy six times.
As for my decisions, it is all done by reading all types of wine blogs and articles in the native languages of the winemakers, until I have all the information I need to contact the producers I wish to visit.
I came to your first portfolio show ten or so years ago, and I remember tasting wines from Jura for the first time and being totally blown away. I hadn't even heard of Jura then. It's since become a major region for US wine lovers. What has that been like, seeing a whole region rise to prominence after being neglected for so long?
I came across the wines from Jura in 2003 at Restaurant Arpege, a great three-star restaurant in Paris. The sommelier asked me if I wanted to have the tasting menu paired with wines from this region. I was fascinated by the wines. Although I already new the different styles of Savagnin, I was totally surprised by the high quality of the reds which I had never had, and also the Melon.
I worked for some of the most celebrated chefs in NY and consequently I have had the chance to taste/drink some of the best wines produced in the world. When I decided to become an importer, my vision was to find wines of good quality that did not need to cost so much, like the wines I always worked with. Jura is the true example of that. Likewise there are still many regions out there producing great quality, well-priced wines to be discovered: Galicia, Baden, Lombardia, Costa Toscana, Basilicata, Dão, etc.
Your portfolio has grown and changed in the ten years you've been in business. What about your work has changed? What has not changed?
Twenty years ago we could not consider drinking good quality wines from half as many regions as we do now. This is very exciting! I always like discovering a new region, a wine produced from a varietal I did not know.
I love to travel and fortunately I speak many languages, which is a real plus when it comes to visiting and working with growers from a new country. This is something that has changed in the past four years — I started to work with Italy, Portugal, and Spain, whereas before I was mostly concentrated in France and Germany.
What has not changed is my liking for high-toned wines, elegance and finesse over power and extraction. To me, high-toned wines are what harmonize with our foods. We're not eating food the way we were in the 19th century, heavy reductions and so on. So our wines should reflect that.
Wine and food is like listening to music, it's a feeling. When you sit in the chair you should vibrate.