Known for its majestic red wines, Piedmont is often overlooked when it comes to Italian white wines. But why? Paul Pettengale introduces you to the surprise hit of Gavi…
The people of Piedmont are fiercely passionate about their region. And with good reason. Even though the north western area is cooler than the country?s southern zones, it nonetheless has stunning mountains, a cracking city in Turin and is, of course, home to the king of wines: Barolo. Indeed, Piedmont is famous world over for the massively high quality (and price) of its red wines. But what of its whites? Well, there is one deserved of international repute. And that?s Gavi: a wine made using Cortese grapes grown around the town of the same name.
It?s a mystery as to why Gavi is little known outside of Piedmont and its neighbouring Liguria (it partners brilliantly with seafood caught off the Ligurian coast and is drank widely in the restaurants of the area). It?s typically dry and fresh-tasting with notes of lime and hints of other citrus fruits. It has an appealing flinty minerality, entirely similar to Chablis. Indeed, it?s the closest thing you?ll come to as an Italian Chablis equivalent, and usually far cheaper than the offering from Burgundy.
Wine buyers are starting to cotton on. Indeed all the major supermarket chains now feature a Gavi on their shelves. The best, however, with the possible exception of the two Gavi wines stocked by Waitrose, are to be found in the cellars of specialist wine merchants. So next time you come to ordering yourself a case of Chablis, think Gavi instead: you won?t be disappointed.
Italia! discovery of the month
From Great Western Wine
We?re big, big fans of the wines produced by Matteo Ascheri and his dedicated team. They are, without doubt, among the best to come out of Piedmont, and his Gavi di Gavi is no exception ? it?s one of our all-time favourite white wines. It has a stoney, flinty nose with a touch of lime and greengage ? though it?s a very subtle aroma. Not until it?s in the mouth do things really start happening: there?s an enormous explosion of fruit, all tangy and delicious, with an underlying acidity that keeps the fruit flavours nicely pinned down. It?s a wine utterly in control of itself, and well balanced. A very complete package that oozes quality and drinkability. It?s this level of control that makes it an ideal partner to fish, even those fish with very subtle flavours such as sea bass and lemon sole. Though we?d drink it outside on a hot day (nicely chilled, of course) with a great plate of crayfish smothered in herb-infused melted butter. This really is a masterclass in wine making ? well done Matteo!
From Berkmann Wine Cellars
Gavi should always be slightly acidic: it?s the calling card of the Cortese grape variety. What marks out a great Gavi, though, is the way that acidity is combined with the fresh fruit flavours. It should strike a harmonious balance, presenting a well-rounded wine that?s never too tart or too flabby. Bruno Broglia hits it just right with this classy Gavi. With a crisp mineral aroma and its peach stone flavours, it screams quality and drinkability in equal measure.
If you can afford it, lobster is a great choice, or perhaps roasted sea bass.
From The Drink Shop
Castellari Bergaglio has been making Gavi wines for four generations, and its experience clearly shows. Rather than the typical lime aromas, this wine enjoys more in the way of apple peel. In the mouth it has crisp acidity and a slight nutty flavour, though it is well balanced. The distinctive mineral finish is much like a good Chablis, but at a fraction of the price. Another fine white wine from the Piedmont region.
Cracked crab claws or a whole dressed crab, if you can get it!
From Great Western Wine
Don?t be confused by the colour of this wine in the bottle. It looks like a dessert wine in terms of hue, but only because the glass is stained yellow. Rather, it?s a pale yellow-green with distinctive lemony aromas. Apple and pear fruit flavours abound, once again balanced with a lively acidity. Fontanafredda is a well-known and much loved Piedmontese producer and this is solid, dependable stuff. It?s ideal with any seafood or, indeed, a well-roasted chicken.
Chicken breasts poached with garlic, thyme and a little wine.
From Liberty Wine
Changes implemented by wine consultant Donato Lanati at the La Giustiniana estate are now reaping dividends with huge improvements in output quality. The wines are now rich and vibrant, matching those from more established wineries in the region. This Gavi is an opulent affair, boasting apple and pear aromas and plenty of acidic bite. There?s a slight honeyed sweetness to taste, though this quickly evaporates to a bone dry finish.
Roasted black bream stuffed with delicate herbs and lemon.
Waitrose features two different Gavi wines, both of which are good, but for the extra couple of quid that it?ll cost you it?s worth going for this, from La Monetta, at just a penny under ?10. Super-crisp and quite dry, it has subtle lime and almond aromas, gentle acidity and a truly harmonious balance. There?s nothing out of the ordinary here ? nothing to shock or surprise ? but that?s no bad thing. It?s simply very good Gavi at a reasonable price. Definitely worth a try.
A plate of prawns with homemade mayonnaise and brown bread.
From Great Western Wine
Another wine with a subtle but delightful aroma of lemon and crisp apple, this complex Gavi di Gavi from Nicola Bergaglio is made using fairly old vines; most of them are around 30 years old. Apple and pear tastes abound, though the fruit is held in check with refined acidity and the wine?s great mineral tones. Do check out this producer?s Caip?n wine, also available from GWW for ?17.95 ? pricey, though definitely worth it.
Grilled white fish or salmon poached in a generous splash of Gavi.
Gavi di Gavi and Gavi
There?s hardly an Italian wine region where there?s not some kind of controversy, argument or legal wrangle, and Gavi is no exception. You will have noticed that all of the wines we?ve reviewed in Drink Italia! this month are called Gavi di Gavi, rather than simply Gavi. This is because, given the increasing interest in the wines of Gavi during the 1970s, producers local to ? but not immediately within ? the commune of Gavi started labeling their wines with the name of the town. Those producers within the commune took exception to this, fearing that lower quality wines from outside of their very specific zone would lower the reputation of their own wines. And so they started calling their wines Gavi di Gavi, effectively specifying that if you buy a wine thus labelled then you?re getting the real deal; a wine that?s made with Cortese grapes from within the Gavi commune itself, rather than from beyond its confines.