For a long time Gavi enjoyed a reputation of being Piedmont’s best white wines. It was known for its light, crisp and refreshing style and was a welcome alternative in a sea of firm red wines. The late 1970s and 80s saw, like virtually everywhere else in Italy, producers increasing yields in pursuit of greater quantities, leading to a deluge of unremarkable wines.
Today Gavi has reclaimed its reputation as one of Italy’s great white wines however. A younger generation of producers live and breathe the notion that wine-making starts in the vineyards and this in turn has spurned a healthy scene of small production wines. Despite this, Gavi is not alone at the vanguard of fashion and must now compete with rapidly growing interest in local rare varieties, also laying claim to greatness, such as Timorasso, Nascetta and Arneis.
Gavi is produced exclusively from the Cortese grape around the village of Gavi in Piedmont’s Alessandria province. At its best the wines are dry and refreshing, with attractive floral notes that in the most complex examples extend into white peach and notes of stone fruit. The widely held view that these wines are best drunk young is still valid, although both La Scolca and Broglia produce some outstanding low production Gavi that sees an extended period of time on its lees before release. Cortese’s natural acidity does provide some ability to age, but in general they are best consumed within a few years of the vintage.
It is this same acidity that has made some producers explore the Cortese’s potential for bubbles. Sparkling (or Spumante) wines can be produced as Gavi. There are a handful of traditional method examples around also but quite often they are labelled simply as Italian sparkling wine.
With a number of other villages permitted to produce Gavi, there is just cause for an exploration of the distinctive terroir that marks denomination that achieved DOCG status in 1998 after its initial classification as a DOC wine in 1974.
The rules allow for the production of Gavi ‘Riserva’ on the proviso that it matures for a minimum of one year before release, including six months in bottle. For traditional method sparkling wines there a ‘Riserva’ must spend a minimum of two years ageing, including eighteen months on the lees.