If you consider the tricolore of the Italian flag, its three bands could arguably be seen to represent different sauces characteristic of Italian cuisine, with the green of pesto and white of alfredo or carbonara sauce being followed by the red of marinara (or any variant including the seemingly omnipresent tomato as a base ingredient). Given the relative commonality of the latter sorts of sauces, it wouldn’t be surprising that if you were to ask the average consumer to name Italian wines, they would most likely think of those whose color – red – matches the sauces most often associated with Italian cuisine. They might cite Chiantis, Montepulcianos, Nero d’Avilas, Brunellos or Ripassos, and almost certainly if any varieties from Piedmont come to mind, these would be Barolos, Barbero d’Albas or Barbarescos. Although there are a number of outstanding white wines from Italy, it is nonetheless rare when a tasting focuses on these exclusively, so it was a unique event when the Gavi World Tour descended upon the Midtown Loft on September 7th.
Known as ‘The Great White of Piedmont’, Gavi wines are produced from 100% Cortese grapes, a native Piedmontese varietal, which yields a fresh and elegant white both sumptuous and versatile. The Gavi region is an area in southeast Piedmont which borders Liguria to the south, and features red clays, white soils and a central strip with alternating layers of marl and sandstone beneath the 1,600 hectares of vineyards there. Founded in 1993, the Consorzio Tutela del Gavi is commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture to promote and protect the Gavi DOCG denomination, both in Italy and around the world, and together with 190 members oversees the distribution of 13 million bottles of wines exported to over 100 countries worldwide.
Stretching from the foothills of the Po Valley towards the Apennine Mountains, the Gavi DOCG denomination territory includes 11 municipalities within the province of Alessandria: Bosio, Carrosio, Capriata d’Orba, Francavilla Bisio, Gavi, Novi Ligure, Parodi Ligure, Pasturana, San Cristoforo, Serravalle Scrivia and Tassarolo. The soils of Gavi are the continuation of Serravallian marls originating in the Langhe, and are distinct according to the three geographical realms of the region – the Northern Belt, which has red clays rich in iron, which have originated in alluvial deposits due to river erosion; the Central Strip, featuring alternating layers of marl and sandstone, with a mix of clays, sands and pebbles, as well as marine formations and rocks from the oceanic crust; and the Southern Belt, with soils predominantly metamorphic in origin. The first reference to the cultivation of Cortese grapes dates back to the 10th Century, when the Gavi region belonged to the Obertenghi Marquises. At the time the Republic of Genoa, on the coast in neighboring Liguria, hailed the Cortese vine as the symbol of the area, and was instrumental in the distribution of the resultant wines abroad via its merchant fleet. In collaboration with public authorities the Consorzio Tutela del Gavi was the first to complete ampelographic and cadastral identification using satellite geolocation of its vineyards in 2004 – with the analysis confirming that the vineyards are exclusively cultivated with Cortese grapes.
The different types of Gavi wines break down into four categories: Tranquillo, Frizzante, Spumante and Riserva. Tranquillo – the still wine variety – accounts for 99% of all Gavi production. It is usually consumed young, is relatively dry, has a fundamentally straw yellow color and a minimum alcohol content of 10.50%. Spumante is the semi-sparkling variety, and is vinified according to the Metodo Classico, with second fermentation on the lees in the bottle (contact with the lees must last for at least 6 months); characterized by a fine and persistent bubble, and floral aromas on the nose, it has a minimum alcohol content of 10.50%. Frizzante, the sparkling variety, notable for its fine foam, also has a minimum alcohol content of 10.05%, and is produced by only a handful of producers. The Riserva is the aged version of Gavi, refined for no less than one year – at least 6 months of which are in the bottle – and has a minimum alcohol content of 11.00%.
There has been a general movement at wine tastings to cut down on the usage of paper in the materials provided to attendees as a guide to the participating producers, and whether or not this was the rationale behind the handouts at the event on September 7th, the lists I was able to collect from the check-in table did not detail specific vintages and brands for the wines, only listing the wineries, town or province they are located, owner and/or export manager, websites, and importers in New York and New Jersey (for those who have these). Being a Luddite, I eschew cell phone use, but having one at the event would have come in handy, in order to take photos of the bottles as one tasted them. As it was, a number of producers stood out for offering superior wines; among these were Banfi SRL, Broglia, Ghio Roberto, Il Rocchin Di Zerbo, La Toledana, La Zerba, Molinetto di Carrea Diego, Ottosoldi and Villa Sparina. (For more information on each producer, one can access this online by typing in the name of the winery with the Top Level Domain of “.it” added to the end of the name, which will take you to the respective websites.)
One thing that made this tasting a little more confusing than it might otherwise have been was that rather than having producers of a single winery assorted at their own separate tables (and/or, as is often the case, having several producers at the same table), it was occasionally the case that the wines of a single producer were to be found at more than one table. Most tasting tables were arrayed against the southern wall of the event space, with a good number of bottles aligned on each; it’s possible that it may simply have been a matter of in situ event space furniture that was available – and that there wasn’t an option for smaller tables, which would have allowed for fewer producers and bottles per table – for the wines being displayed and assorted as they were. The other notable thing about the tables was that surfaces of these, where the bottles were displayed, were quite a bit higher than what one is accustomed to at tastings – about four feet off the ground, as opposed to the usual approximately three feet or so where bottles are arrayed between those pouring the wines and those on the other side tasting them. The one advantage of this elevation is that you didn’t have to lean over so very far to spit out the wines once you were done sloshing them around in your mouth.