The wisdom in aged Gavi

Winemakers in Gavi are reconsidering and adapting traditional practices in the face of climate change. Leona De Pasquale visits the region to hear how innovation and ageing are key to preserving the identity of Gavi's wines

Words by Leona De Pasquale

The rolling hills of Gavi, a region in which winemakers are grappling with the challenges posed by climate change

What springs to mind at the mention of Gavi? For many, it’s a wine to savour in its youthful exuberance. Yet, in the idyllic hills between Milan and Genoa in Piemonte, centred around the majestic Forte di Gavi, there’s a shift towards celebrating Gavi’s ageing potential and embracing the more prestigious Riserva category. One of the driving forces behind this transformation is perhaps less of a surprise. In the face of climate change, Gavi stands at the crossroads of adaptation, prompting producers to reconsider age-old viticultural practices and adapt their traditions in light of an uncertain future.

While it may be surrounded by illustrious red-wine-producing neighbours, Gavi thrives thanks to its whites. The region’s international exports, which began in the 18th century, remain in rude health, with more than 14 million bottles gracing tables around the world every year. The popularity of Gavi’s refreshing and young white wines made from 100% Cortese shouldn’t be underestimated.

Cortese growing in Gavi
Cortese vines growing on the La Ghibellina estate

Nonetheless, the impact of climate change is clear to see in this region. Maurizio Montobbio, president of the 190-member Gavi Consorzio, points out that 2014 generally marked the last vintage for the traditional harvest time of late September; early to mid-September is now the norm. While white wines in Gavi struggled to reach 10.5% alcohol in the ’90s, the challenge today is to keep levels below 13%. Davide Ferrarese, the Consorzio’s viticultural consultant, echoes the view and further highlights climate change-induced challenges like droughts, pests, and sunburnt grapes.

To address these issues, producers are adopting proactive measures. Andrea Mascherini of La Zerba is using innovative methods like wood extract and orange oil as ‘sunscreen’ on leaves for grape protection. Many are also diversifying their portfolios. La Zerba is experimenting with low-intervention orange Gavi wine, while La Ghibellina and Il Poggio di Gavi are venturing into traditional method sparkling wines. The latter is even producing a Cortese Pet Nat outside DOCG regulations.

Maurizio Montobbio, president of the Gavi Consorzio, stands with the Forte di Gavi behind him

Although the classic Gavi tranquillo style still represents 99 percent of Gavi’s wine production, there is room for creativity. Many producers now focus on creating more ‘terroir-driven’ wines, utilising grapes from specific sites within the 11 municipalities in Gavi. Roberto Ghio of Azienda Agricola Ghio champions wines from the southern part of Gavi in Bosio, where the vineyards are at a higher altitude and closer to the sea, resulting in wines with incredible freshness and tension.

Davide Ferrarese, viticultural consultant in Gavi, emphasises the importance of preparing for the increasingly hot summers with work in the vineyard during winter

Most importantly, climate change has rekindled the emphasis on Gavi’s ageability. Renowned for its immediate charm, Gavi is marked by pronounced zesty acidity with sage and nutty undertones. With time, it can develop the petrol note found in some Rieslings, showcasing Cortese’s capacity for extended cellaring. To underscore the quality of aged Gavi, the Consorzio strongly supports the Riserva category, which mandates a minimum of one-year aging.

Despite several producers already crafting special cuvées in the same manner, only four have sought official Riserva designation to be shown on the label. One of the challenges lies in the lower yield requirement for making Riserva wines, set at 65,000kg per hectare compared to the 95,000kg allowed for classic Gavi.

Andrea Mascherini of La Zerba is experimenting with ways to protect the vines from the extremes of the sun

As Gavi’s wines continue to fly off the shelves, persuading producers to reduce their yields and set aside wines for Riserva remains a challenge. Nonetheless, Montobbio, the president of the Consorzio, is optimistic: ‘We continue to champion the Riserva category, believing it guarantees the preservation of Gavi’s identity in the future.’ More importantly, as Gavi Wine Ambassador Sara Repetto points out, ‘Without clear Riserva labelling, the older vintage Gavi wines on the shelves could be mistaken as leftover stock from the wine merchant since consumers are not familiar with Gavi’s ageing potential.’ Additionally, it can help consumers look for the more complex flavours that can be expected from their aged Gavi.

With time, Gavi can develop the petrol note found in some Rieslings

With climate change leading to shifts in vineyard and cellar practices, it’s crucial for producers to determine whether today’s wines can develop similarly over the next eight to ten years. To encourage more producers to make Riserva Gavi, the Consorzio is actively exploring solutions and considering ways to make the regulations more accommodating.

The future of Gavi is being shaped by the forward-thinking Consorzio and many passionate producers who understand that preserving tradition while embracing innovation is the key to ensuring Gavi’s continued success. Despite the challenges brought about by climate change, there’s a silver lining to be found: Gavi has never been more diverse and exciting.

Nine age-worthy Gavi wines to have on your radar

Le Zucche, Azienda Agricola Ghio, Gavi DOCG Riserva 2021 

One of the handful Riserva labels that can be found in the market. Organic, with indigenous yeasts, aged ‘sur lie’ and with further bottle ageing for one year before releasing. Flinty, refreshing and with a great round texture on the palate.

G, Produttori del Gavi, 2020

Made by the well-respected cooperative from red soil in Capriata d’Orba with 60+ year-old vines. Full-bodied, smooth and round texture comes from the one-year aging on lees, with an invigorating green tea finish. Winemaker Andrea Pancotti believes the wine can age for another 10 years easily. Its 2008 vintage has proved just that.

Pisé, La Raia, 2019

La Raia is certified biodynamic. Pisé comes from one of their oldest parcels. Charming white blossoms with a ripe peach note. Intense and complex on the palate with a lingering finish.
€22, 8Wines

Bruno Broglia, Broglia, 2019

Green apple, lemon zest and lime on the nose lead to a savoury and saline finish, drizzled with ripe peach tone and a nutty finish.
£27.35, Vinvm

Primin, La Zerba, 2017

An organic winery producing stunning Gavi with great ageing potential. White blossoms, lemon curd, sage, with a lingering spicy finish.

Il Poggio di Gavi, 2012

Female-led winery managed by creative thinker Francesca Poggio. Intriguing sage, lemon, and ripe apricot aromas with a creamy texture.
£20, Amathus Drinks

Spumante Brut Metodo Classico Pas Dose, La Ghibellina, 2012

A traditional method sparkling wine, disgorged in 2021 with almost nine years on lees. Zesty, with notes of dried peach, pickled plum, a hint of brioche and a herbal finish.

Villa Sparina, Gavi del Comune di Gavi DOCG, 2010

Aromas of shortbread drizzled with sea salt. Rich and opulent on the palate, with a hint of honey note and a toasty, saline finish.

£21 (current, 2022 vintage), Hic!

La Chiara, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2008

Medium gold colour. Fragrance of sage and herbal notes, with stone fruit and a petrol hints on the finish. This goes to show why Gavi can gracefully enter its golden age.
£17.20 (current, 2022 vintage), Tanners