If last week’s Barossa Shiraz was the epitome of the familiar, this wine is at the other end of the spectrum with a new grape and a new region (for this blog). There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just dive right into this Pio Cesare Gavi 2010.
Italian whites are something of a weak area in terms of my personal wine knowledge. While I have a handle on a few of them, there are just so many. At this point they are all vaguely familiar but not so much that I can remember which is which. Obviously I need to spend a few months touring Italy to understand the geography and the grapes.
Gavi is a town in the southeast of Piedmont, not far from border with Liguria which stands between it and the Mediterranean. We know Piedmont from past posts on Barbaresco and Dolcetto d’Alba, and I’ve spoken a bit about the hierarchy of red grapes there and sparkling wine. However, I completely failed to mention any white grapes in Piedmont, which is something of an oversight. The main white grapes in Piedmont are Arneis and Favorita, found in Roero to the north of Alba, and Cortese which is the grape of Gavi.
Gavi, in addition to being a town, is a DOCG region as of 1998. Cortese has been cultivated there since at least the 17th century, and is the sole grape for the DOCG, though Dolcetto was historically grown there but not widely replanted after phylloxera struck. The region is hilly, with aspect and altitude being key factors in site selection. Soils vary in Gavi, with white limestone and red clay being two distinct types. The climate is continental and similar to the rest of Piedmont, with hot summers and cold winters, but with a maritime influence from the Mediterranean 70km to the south.
Cortese is a new grape for me, and I hope I can be forgiven for pronouncing it as it is spelled rhyming with tease, instead of how it’s actually pronounced, more like core, tea, and say strung together with the emphasis on tea. It’s a white grape, and while it’s most commonly associated with Gavi, it’s the primary grape in other DOC areas of Piedmont, and used in blends in DOC wines of Lombardy and the Veneto. It is capable of retaining acidity at full ripeness and has good disease and pest resistance. It can also deliver high yields without the typical drop in quality, and the DOCG rules in Gavi permit 70HL/HA.
Cortese is not a grape grown widely outside of Italy. According to Vinodiversity.com, the only Australian producer is Lost Valley Winery in Victoria. Mosby Winery in Santa Barbera, Cougar Vineyard and Winery and Mount Palomar in Temecula Valley, and the Graziano Family of Wines in Mendocino (and possibly a few others) have plantings in California.
Pio Cesare is a fifth generation family run producer based in Alba, having been established in 1881 by Cesare Pio. They are a fairly large scale producer, with 45HAs of vines they own outright, and longstanding relationships with a number of neighbouring growers. They produce wines from regions across Piedmont, including DOCG Barolo, Barbaresco, Mostaco d’Asti and this Gavi. In addition to those wines, they produce DOC Barbera and Dolcetto d’Alba, and varietal DOC wines from Grignolino, Freisa, Arneis and Chardonnay. Their wines are very traditional in style, but their winemaking is fairly modern, with temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel and no shortage of French oak. This wine in particular was fermented in steel and then remained on lees for four months prior to bottling.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, a pale, lemon green colour with quick thin legs. On the nose it’s clean, with medium intensity and a developing character. There are notes of quince, lemon curd, a little white pepper, and the suggestion of oak, even those this wine has not had seen the inside of a barrel. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity, and a medium plus length. There are notes of quince, some sandalwood, lemon, and some herbs. It has a slightly oily texture – not unpleasant, but noticeable.
I score this wine as good, possibly very good, as there is some complexity and it measures well in terms of length, acidity and intensity. As this is my first Cortese, I can’t vouch for its typicity, but it is very pleasant in the glass, and probably just the thing to pair with shellfish in the summer. Alas it’s grey and wet here as we pass the midway point in the Antipodean winter, but it managed to brighten my day nonetheless.