The lights of Gavi: A wine hung in balance
- Written by Pierluigi Gorgoni
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Many people have little idea that Piedmont produces great white wines. One such wine is Gavi, which has recently reached high levels of quality, generating a fascinating wine district that is awaiting discovery
With Piedmont's excellent red wines somewhat obstructing the view, at times we forget the equally extraordinary vocation of the region's white wines, beginning with those of Gavi. The history of Gavi wine begins not long ago in the 1950s thanks to the intuition of Vittorio Soldati, who vinified the Cortese grapes that grew on his wife Federica Parodi's property in the community of Rovereto di Gavi. The winery was - and is - called La Scolca, and its emblematic wines still lend great esteem to Rovereto's terroir today. Gavi was one of the white Italian wines that enjoyed great fame and success between the 1970s and 1980s, with popularly fruity but not particularly characteristic wines, simply fresh and drinkable, and in some cases rather acerbic. But today and for at least the past ten years, about a dozen wineries in Gavi are committed to producing high quality wines with no compromises or shortcuts, creating a de facto viticultural zone that is among some of Italy's most fascinating wine regions, and for several reasons.
Disposition. The vine, the territory, and the wine.
A unique light seems to emanate from the best wines of Gavi, broadening and tending towards its striking presentation. It is a cutting light that requires finesse to know how to capture, a light which both wine drinkers and wine makers are in search of. A Gavi wine hangs in balance. The grape at its base is the Cortese, a variety that no other place in the world has ensnared the energy that is found here. Elsewhere it becomes neutral, flat, placated, uninspired and uninspiring. Here, in its most successful arena, Gavi's personality crackles with a minerality that cannot free itself from such a unique territory. As is the case for few other Italian wines and viticultural zones, the concept of uniqueness that forms from a specific environment, ineffable if not for that brilliant French concept of terroir, is expressed with an extraordinary efficacy.
The Cortese is from Gavi and its immediate surroundings. Gavi is still in Piedmont, though it is beginning to creep towards Liguria (at the table, Gavi's cuisine and traditional gastronomy attest to its transregional inspiration). Its land is of high hills that are almost mountains but ventilated with the aromas of the Mediterranean and its maritime breath. Its territory is also open pasture in many instances, yet sheltered with forests and majestic natural landscapes mixing with the vines, and a proud countenance, almost a scowl, like the Castle of Gavi high on a rock that looms over the dwellings of Gavi.
If the taste of Gavi took physical form, it would be drawn with a tight profile, vertical, slender, razor-edged.
Character. Form, circumstance.
Thus are the wines of Gavi. At least, such are its best representatives that reflect all the above intents and conditions and translate it to the producer and drinker coherently. Gavi wines are like taut cords over a precipice; they are the dizziness from gazing over. If the taste of Gavi took physical form, it would be drawn with a tight profile, vertical, slender, razor-edged. Its light is absolutely unique; its freshness has a juicy spritz of citrus that breaks off right before souring, a penetrating, sometimes cutting sensation. The vertical tension of its aroma recalls Mediterranean herbs, the saltiness of the sea, and a brininess that manages to harmonize. It bounces from the Appennine Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea in a delicate and tenuous form, without exaggeration, for which its alcoholic content - as opposed to those that are grown elsewhere, in its other viticultural districts - barely reaches above 12.5%, usually staying at 12% or even below. A true incitement to drink, this is the Cortese of Gavi at its best. But however it is made, and this is essential to highlight, one must drink Gavi at its very best, as this white wine with such personality and height of form when well-tended and uncompromised risks falling into neutral banality in a second, at the most minor lack of attention in the vineyards or the cellar. This is the line stretched over a great, empty canyon. For this, it is a wine hanging in balance.
Attitude and semblance. Singularity in the territory
Like every great wine, Gavi further develops the value of its terroir, of its stable and extraordinary ties between the Cortese grape and its diverse slopes where it thrives, knowing how to mediate and modulate itself to the best of its ability, humoring the diverse environmental conditions it encounters. For this, the earth of the small communities Rovereto and Tassarolo light up the intensity of Cortese next to its saline fruitiness, a pairing that is only rarely observed from other places. Near the community of Monterotondo, the land's calcareous and tufaceous stains, and its altitude - which climbs up steeply in some areas - seem to innervate the wines with a decisive and marked minerality. Towards Novi Ligure, the earth lightens in color and seems to thaw, producing wines that in many cases accentuate a marine character. The earth from the valley of the Lemme River on the western side of Gavi has detrital and alluvial sands, creating opulent wines. The slopes rise before heading south, between Carrosio, Bosio, and Parodi Ligure: one's vicinity to the ocean is strongly felt with wines that have a texture of mineral and saline fibers, with rising aromas of clear citrus as an expression of the thermal heat on its best exposed slopes.
Attitude and semblance. Versatility in technical interpretations
Generally, the Cortese grape favors vinification in such a way as to not disturb its subtle aromatic compounds with wood, but there are some happy exceptions that demonstrate how the grape can get along even with oak if the winemaker is sensitive. The variety's versatility is confirmed in its ability to take other forms. This is found in the late harvest, in the wines with over ten years of rest on its lees in stainless steel, and in the spumante of the metodo classico, another excellent and surprising typology of the Gavi Cortese. It is a form in which territory and variety are connected with results that remain significant for decades. This, however, though in the same scene with the same interpreters of wine, is another story for another day.
A unique light seems to emanate from the best wines of Gavi, broadening and tending towards its striking presentation. It is a cutting light that requires finesse to know how to capture, a light which both wine drinkers and wine makers are in search of.