Cortese di Gavi

This noble Italian white is cultivated in a restricted area within the province of Alessandria, near the Ligurian border. It is recognised as the go-to bianco for most Italians, and shines like a white beacon in an area that is better known for its prestigious reds. It received its DOCG in 1974, and is commonly referred to as simply Gavi.

The grape from which it is made is the Cortese variety. It is lightly flavoured and produces zesty, medium-bodied whites with notable hints of lime. It is also one of the oldest cultivated grapes in Piedmonte, with the first recorded evidence of Cortese plantings dating back to 1659.

Gavi is derives its title from the town of the same name, one of the thirteen exclusive communes that produce it. Wine that comes solely from Gavi is distinguished by the title, Gavi di Gavi. This is an ancient town with pre-Roman roots and splendid Romanesque buildings, the ideal pastoral setting for Italian viticulture. The communes include Bosio, Capriata d’Orba, Carrosio, Francavilla, Bisio, Novi Ligure, Pasturana, San Cristoforo, Serravalle Scrivia and Tassarolo.

Gavi also has particularly strong aristocratic connections. It was first cultivated on a large scale by the Marquis Cambiaso in 1876. This was so popular that other noble families quickly caught on, and started farming Cortese for the production of Gavi shortly afterward. Other blue-blooded titles connected to the production of Gavi in the nineteenth century are Raggio, Sartorio, Serra and Spinola.

But what about the wine itself? A good Gavi is straw coloured, with slight greenish reflections. The nose is floral, with notes of white blossoms and other spring flowers. On the tongue, Gavi closely resembles the features of its terroir. It has a flinty, lemony sharpness that corresponds to the calcerous, limestone-rich clay from which Cortese grapes thrive. These flavours are softened by essences of green apple, honeydew and tender peach. There are also underlying hints of almond in what is a strongly structured wine that can be enjoyed with food or on its own.

In terms of food pairings, Gavi is closely linked to the gastronomic traditions of neighbouring Liguria, which are rich in seafood specialities. Gavi loves all kinds of seafood, and works spectacularly with oysters, crab, salmon, scallops, shrimp, calamari and other types of white fish. It also complements vegetable-based dishes, like a decadent cheese-stuffed ravioli or summertime quiche. Herby pasta sauces, like butter and sage or green pesto, also work well with a scintillating glass of Gavi.

It goes without saying that the town of Gavi and its surrounding communes is a must-see for wine enthusiasts. Take a drive to Alessandria and visit the town’s striking fortress, which is said to have never been breached in over a thousand years. The views from the castle are particularly awe-inspiring. Besides the obvious enjoyments of wine-tasting and lunch at a local trattoria, visits to the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore and the convent of Nostre Signora della Grazie della Valle are essential.