The small medieval town of Gavi gives its name to what is probably Italy’s best-known quality white. For publication in week starting 5 September 2016.
The Gavi region consists of about 1,500 hectares according to the Corsorzio Tutela del Gavi, the group responsible for promoting Gavi DOCG. Production is deliberately kept at about 13 million bottles a year to maintain prices. Overseas sales are important for the region: About four in five bottles are exported.
Vines are mostly found around the city of Alessandria and in the Monferrato hills. Monferrato was the subject of an earlier column. The Gavi region is close to France in north-west Italy and is about 100 kilometres southeast of Turin and about 30 kilometres southeast of Alessandria.
The origins of the name Gavi are misty. One legend says the town was named after Princess Gavia, daughter of the French king Clodomir, who defied her father and crossed the Alps in search of love. Another more vague story links the name to those of Genoan nobles who visited the town.
We do know for sure that Gavi received DOC status in 1974 and was made a DOCG in 1998 (DOCG generally denominates the best-quality wines). Cortese is the primary grape and Gavi can only be made from vines within the commune of Gavi. The best-known landmark in the region is Gavi Fortress, built in the twelfth century. It became a prison during WW2, and mostly held men who had been re-captured after escaping from other prisoner-of-war camps in Italy.
Young Gavi tends to be the colour of light straw with relatively mild floral and peachy aromas. It is also very acidic, dry and crisp, generally with a balanced finish. A tasting of almost 50 wines organised by the Corsorzio Tutela del Gavi, mostly from the 2014 and 2015 vintages, confirmed the zingy nature of young Gavi. Most offered echoes of white flowers and acacia mingled with citrus, though after a while the sameness had us wanting aromas and textures that stood out.
About 15 per cent of estates are organic or bio-dynamic and these wines tended to be more obvious in the tasting. Francesco Bergaglio, the consortium’s communications manager, noted a trend towards more organic wines in recent years. The 2015 Ottosoldi Sarl, the 2015 Il Poggio and the 2015 Tenuta San Pietro in Tassarolo all stood out at the tasting.
Young Gavi is an excellent chilled aperitif and the acidity means these wines are excellent with seafood or the local foccacia or ravioli, the last invented by the Raviolo family in Gavi in the 12th century.
Since 2010 Gavi DOCG has added two new versions: Reserve and Reserve Spumante made in the classic or “metodo classico” style. At the tasting a handful of sparkling Gavis made in “metodo classico” style with time on lees were a revelation. The 2010 Il Poggio and the 2009 La Mesma were delights, full of zingy mousse and elegant tang.
One of the first documents that refers to the name Gavi, housed in the State Archives of Genoa and dated 971, describes vineyards in an area called Meirana. Bruno Broglia, a textile entrepreneur, established Tenuta Meirana in 1972. Meirana has become recognised as a premier Gavi estate. Bruno’s sons Roberto and Paolo and nephew Bruno continue the tradition.
Roberto noted the influence of the breeze from the ocean, about 20km away and known as “il marino,” that seem to impart a slight saline quality to the wines. This salinity was apparent in many of the wines at the tasting the consortium organised.
Vines in Gavi are planted between 150 and 450 metres of elevation, which produces a significant diurnal range — that spread of temperatures between night and day that impart wondrous flavours to grapes as they ripen in summer.
It is a misconception that all Gavi is best drunk young. Plenty of articles that suggest it “peaks after a year, and is only drinkable for another two or three years after that” can be found on the web. This might have been the case years ago, but some Gavis are being made to last much longer.
The wines of Morgassi Superiore offer a fine example of ageing potential. The estate’s symbol is the Pistrice, a mythological animal said to live on land, sea and air. Co-owner Marina Piacitelli said the Pistrice demonstrated the “versatility of our wines” and suggested that her estate’s chalky clay soils imparted elegance and mineralogy which enhanced ageing potential.
We tasted an almost clear-coloured 2015 Morgassi Tuffo with intense lemon zing and profound length, and then enjoyed the 1994 vintage of the same wine. It glistened like gold and retained its lively acidity while offering aromas of almonds and a saline crunch. It had a textural quality that suggested it could have happily stayed in the cellar for another decade, and supported Ms Piacitelli’s belief in Gavi’s age-ability.
All Gavi wines are made from Cortese. But Morgassi also make a white from the little known Timorasso grape, which was a revelation. The 2013 Timorcasso (note different spelling) has impressive length and lemon tang with a rich texture in the mouth.
In nearby Colli Tortonesi, Paolo Carlo Ghislandi produces exceptional wines from Timorasso that he ages before putting on the market. His sparkling Timorasso is elegant and zingy and sings in the glass, while his I Carpini 2010 Timorasso is rich and textured like an aged Hunter Valley Semillon. As with Hunter Valley Semillon, all whites are made in stainless steel and see no oak. Yet they have an intensity and texture that makes one think otherwise.