By Celia Strong
Long summer days with lots of both sun and rain, humidity and heat, all sort of yearn for new refreshing wines. As we look around the world for these, the Mediterranean region turns out to be a great source. Not surprising, considering their weather can be much like ours.
In the northwestern corner of Italy, there is the Piedmont region. It borders both France and Switzerland and sits at the foot of the Alps. Turin is its capital city, with an abundance of baroque architecture and upscale cuisine and wines. It’s located right in the middle of this region’s wine industry. Wines have been part of Piedmont history since the Greeks and the Romans after them. Being close to France has been a good influence on the Piedmont region’s wines. Vineyards in Piedmont are generally on the same latitude as those in Bordeaux, but the Piedmont climate is only similar to Bordeaux’s in the summer months. Winters are cooler and drier, and many vineyards are planted on hillsides to keep the grapes closer to the sun. Ninety percent of the region’s wine come from its southern areas. Italian wine laws have established 42 DOC Piedmont wine appellations, and 17 DOCG – the highest level of Italian wines. With 17, Piedmont has more DOCG wines than any other region and 85 percent of Piedmont wines produced are DOCG.
Cortese di Gavi, or just Gavi, is a white DOCG from southeastern Piedmont. It was given DOCG status in 1998 and Cortese is the grape. This is a local variety with a history dating back to the 1659. (Wines made from Cortese grown in the commune of Gavi can be called Gavi di Gavi.) There are plantings of Cortese in other parts of Italy, Gavis are the best of the best.
Cortese di Gavi are known for their crispness and lemon-lime scents. This variety has a very high acidity level, so their wines retain their freshness and crispness despite growing in a hotter region. It is considered to be Piedmont’s finest white variety. Years ago, before Pinot Grigio became so popular, Gavi wines were usually how wine drinkers learned about Italian white wine. In Piedmont, Gavi is the wine of choice for all their seafood dishes. In the vineyards, Cortese yields must be controlled. If too many grapes are produced, their wines can become bland. This is a thin skinned variety, which helps to ensure the grapes develop enough ripeness before harvest, but thin skins also make them susceptible to rot – a tough balance for the growers.
La Scolca, producer for our Gavi, is a family-owned estate in the commune of Gavi. They own almost 150 acres of vineyards, planted on steep slopes. The vineyard’s soils are calcereous clay and volcanic soils, with lots of iron and veins of chalky limestone. Much like the vineyards of Champagne and Chablis – two other wines known for the acidity, crispness, freshness and flintiness. La Scolca owns some of Piedmont’s oldest Cortese vines – 60 years old. The 2009 was their 90th vintage. The Soldati family, which owns La Scolca, is responsible for raising the quality of Cortese wines after World War II. Their “Black Label” is legendary – and expensive.
La Scolca White Label Gavi is their everyday alternative. This wine comes from slightly younger vines – 20 to 30 years old. Each vine has only about five or six bunches of grapes. The grapes are hand harvested, but they’re brought into the winery within five to 10 minutes. Maceration and cold fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts that help to maintain the Cortese’s subtle fruitiness, flinty acidity and structure. The wine rests on its lees, in the tanks, for four to five months. This helps to extract the aromatic richness and flavor complexities La Scolca is known for. The finished wine is straw yellow with hints of green. It has zesty lemon aromas with stone fruits and some almond. Not only is this a wonderful white wine for sipping on warm summer days, it is superb with all kinds of seafood and shellfish. And sushi. And fried foods. And mild cheeses. And salads. Please, give me a Gavi. For $17.99. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.