Cortese di Gavi DOCG - the fine whites of Piemonte

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

When you say Piemonte people tend to immediately think of Barolo. But the region has so many things that are not red. The crispy whites of Gavi, floral and frizzante Moscato's, sparklings from Canelli, and then there are quite unknown whites like Roero, or even many great reds other than Barolo. Like Barbera, Barbaresco, Ruche, Grignolino and so on. I'll take you to all of these, but let me tell you my story step by step. Starting from my first day in Piedmont wine region. In Gavi DOCG.

vineyard view in La Mesma winery in Gavi DOCG wine region in Novi Ligure, Piemonte
... and you fall in love from the first sight, with the rain, with the colour, and of course with Cortese

Saying that my way there wasn't easy is saying nothing. My 'piemontese' adventures proved that it's possible to travel to all the inconveniently positioned wineries without driving. So wine lovers without driving license - don't be satisfied with wine bars in Piemonte! There are so many unique wineries that are quite accessible by bus :) You can do your Piedmont Wine Tour using public transport only!

It won't makes sense for me to add here all the timetables and routes getting to Piemonte wine region from Milan Bergamo airport. If you need those - ping me in comments or in a message, and you'll get them right away. Below, we'll be focusing on white wines from Gavi.

Gavi DOCG Region

A hilly area made of 11 municipalities south of Alessandria and only one and only variety - Cortese. But how many versions of it you'll find! Cortese, the wine grape used for Gavi wine, is a very neutral variety, thus the climate, type of soil, sun exposure and vinification techniques are highly influential when it comes to the wine aromas and taste.

The Guyot training system is very popular here, and although we're talking about Italy, it's a quite chilly area. Reaching optimal ripeness isn't a struggle, but not an easily achieved target either. From October to April rainy clouds block the sky and you don't walk around without your rain boots.

Cortese is a very neutral variety, thus the climate, type of soil, sun exposure and vinification techniques are highly influential when it comes to the wine aromas and taste.

Short facts:

  • Despite the dominance of rains throughout the year, September is usually dry and sunny, so grapes can fully mature.

  • Diurnal temperatures influence the final stage of grape ripening, which intensifies the typical Gavi DOCG aromas and adds signature acidity to the wine.

  • Gavi DOCG is made of 100% Cortese.

  • Wines of Gavi can be of 5 types - fermo (still), frizzande (fizzy), spumante (sparkling), riserva (reserve) and spumante riserva (sparkling reserve).

  • Soils are either clay with lots of iron and noticeable red colour, or 'white' calcareous soils.

blooming tree and vineyard view in La Mesma winery in Gavi DOCG wine region in Novi Ligure, Piemonte

Gavi wine characteristics:

  • Colour - straw coloured with sometimes greenish reflections

  • Aromas - fresh citrus fruit, white flowers, bitter almond. Add here the minerality of the soil - either stony coming from calcareous soils, or irony from clay.

  • Taste - sophisticated and refined, a very elegant wine. Rich mouth with a long finish, high to very high mouthwatering acidity. It's fresh even after years of ageing, developing beautiful tertiary flavours.

La Mesma - a story of 3 sisters making Gavi

In early 2000's Paola, Francesca and Anna started to look for a vineyard to purchase. Their mother was disappointed by the fact that the family lived in the heart of Gavi (one of the best Italian white wine regions) but had no vineyards to make their own wine. Therefore, the sisters little by little started to acquire parcels, doing the vinification at another cellar. The first vintage took place in 2005.

However, as any other wine producers will tell you, investing all your love and time into the vineyard and outsourcing the production is usually a disappointing experience. That's how they decided to look for a cellar on their own and found one in Tassarolo.

None of them had winemaking experience or graduated from oenology school.

Today the sisters own 25 ha and constantly increasing the size of their cellar - there is never enough space for all the experiments they're up to.

But the start was more than difficult. None of them had winemaking experience or graduated from enological school. Well, Francesca is a biologist, so she is the boss at the fermentation tanks. From the very beginning they were collaborating with an oenologist from Friuli - he was coming once a week to consult and teach, but the agreement was that the ladies must do all on their own.

That's how they faced their first harvest and vinification and learned that all the year's work actually depends on those 20 days, when the grapes require 200% of your attention regardless of how tired you are.

Only in 2011 they hired a help for the cellar. But in 7 years of operating on their own they discovered more about wine than most of the established winery owners. This way the Rosina sisters developed their own style in wine and know what to demand from their employees.

Fast facts about La Mesma winery

  • Organic certified. Producing an organic wine called INDI based on indigenous yeasts.

  • Slow Wine 'Snail' awarded (highest level in Slow Wine).

  • Using a pruning system by Simonit and Sirch. The main idea behind this system is that the founders (Marco Simonit and Pierpaolo Sirch) realized that length of life of vines gets reduced by harmful pruning. So they developed a pruning method that prevents interruption of the sap flow in the vine, increases longevity and disease resistance. This system is used by the best wineries in the world, like the Tuscan Ornellaia or Chateau Latour from Pauillac.

  • Never use weed-killers or chemical fertilizers.

  • Use solar panels for power supply.

  • Fermentation in stainless steal and concrete tanks.

  • Own 15 ha in Monterotondo (calcareous) and 10 ha in Tassarolo (clay soil)

  • They produce dry Gavi di Gavi white wine, as well as one of the best sparkling white wines in Piedmont - Gavi Spumante DOCG.

Frame with a certificate of Slow wine award for La Mesma Gavi Riserva DOCG vino slow in the winery's tasting room
their Gavi Riserva DOCG Vigna della Rovere Verde was awarded by Slow Wine's 'Snail' - highest award in Slow Wine

To sum up, a very innovative winery. Thanks to the fact that it wasn't a family business which passed from generation to generation, the owners were open to innovation and all the time keep learning and developing themselves, experimenting, researching and implementing.

Gavi wine production insights

Rosina sisters produce several types of still wine, a sparkling 'metodo classico' Gavi, and have some ongoing experiments with oak and bubbles.

Gavi DOCG wine tasting in La Mesma winery Novi Ligure

As the vines come from different soils, that is the first thing that distinguishes the diverse taste of their Gavi labels. Obviously, fermentation is done in separate tanks for each vineyard.

  • Their Gavi di Gavi black and yellow label and INDI come from Monterotondo's calcareous soils. They are fermented in stainless steal tanks.

  • The Gavi Riserva comes from old vines (50+ years) in Tassarolo. Their riserva wines are always fermented in concrete tanks. For 3 years they've been experimenting and comparing and concrete was always better in highlighting the complexity of wine coming from older plants.

  • INDI is the only wine made with natural yeasts coming from grape skins. Thus the must ferments with skins, the temperature is lower and gets slightly increased by the last days of fermentation. INDI is more floral, has a very different complexity than their other wines. Originally, it was an experiment as it's hard to rely on natural yeasts when you start your winery from scratch.

  • The Gavi Metodo Classico goes through 70 months of sur lie ageing. Cortese is a perfect variety for sparkling wines with a naturally high acidity which keeps the wine fresh after so many years of ageing on lees. Sur lie allows the wine to develop a beautiful complexity and stony minerality, however the aromas remain very fresh and don't get the typical 'brioche' notes as French sparklings. At La Mesma they do the 2nd fermentation at very low temperature in order to achieve as small and delicate bubbles as possible.

Gavi Spumante sparkling wine tasting in La Mesma winery Novi Ligure
and our tasting starts with sparkles :))

So actually the white wine tasting on my first day in Piedmont wine region

  • Gavi Spumante DOCG Metodo Classico Millesimato 2009 - strong grapefruit zest aromas, very fresh and floral, hard to believe that it's been ageing on lees for 70 months. But then the complexity and delicacy of bubbles proves the fact of 6 years ageing.

  • Gavi DOCG del Comune di Gavi Yellow Label - straw yellow coloured, with apricot, citrus, white flowers and pleasant acidity. Comes from the calcareous soils of Monterotondo, thus enriched with their stony minerality.

  • INDI - organic certified wine, jasmine and rich fruity aromas are more distinguished than in other wines. The small vineyard where INDI comes from is influenced by coastal breeze from Liguria.

  • Gavi DOCG del Comune di Gavi Black Label -intense apple and apricot aromas. Made of best grapes and rests sur lie for 5 months in concrete tanks. This wine is more mineral than fruity or flowery, very elegant. Comes from calcareous soils of Monterotondo.

  • Gavi Riserva DOCG Vigna della Rovere Verde - elegant, light with great structure developed during a year in concrete tanks and 6 months in bottle. The wine feels very irony, as it comes from Tassarolo's clay soils. It's perfect for ageing.

wine tasting in La Mesma Gavi wine Riserva Black Label, Yellow Label, INDI natural organic wine
this is the best way to spend your first day in Piemonte!

I was pleased to meet Francesca and Anna and discover their story, the terroir of La Mesma and careful winemaking processes behind their crystal clear tasting Gavi DOCG wine.

If you are trying to put up a wine tasting tour in Piedmont that includes not only reds, but such a special whites, ping me in comments or a message and I'll share my insights with you!

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