One of the oldest trade routes between the Mediterranean and the economically important Po-valley is the passo di Bocchetta between Gavi and the sea. More than 2000 years ago the Romans crossed this pathway across the Apennines to arrive in Gallia cisalpina – also called Piemonte – and before them Greek and Celts. Later, with Genoa´s rise to power the Apennines became for a big part genoese territory and Gavi became the border between Genoa and North Italy. For long the territory stayed independent from France and Piemonte. Only in 1818 Gavi became part of Piemonte but has preserved its authentic piemontese-ligurian ambience. So much history to find here! Emperor Barbarossa found refuge here and Napoleon stayed some time too. The Marquisate of Gavi was founded by the Obertengo family, descendants from the legendary Aleramo. The fortress, one of Italy´s most impressive, dominates the valleys around, pierced high above the village. One feels the power: the 360º panorama offers beautiful views on Appenines and Lemme valley. Far to the west, across the Lemme, the Santuario di nostra Signora della Guardia remains an important monument in the landscape. A wonderful territory.
The small town of Gavi is a jewel. It boasts old palaces of medieval times and one of Italy´s most original roman churches: the San Giacomo with original portico, and gothic influence, a must for every art lover. Ligurian influence is everywhere, also in kitchen, dialect, colours. A little stroll in Gavi´s old centre will learn you that it is still rather untouched, although unfortunately many palaces are not open for public. Tiny, small streets, houses that almost touch across the road, like a typical Ligurian village. A pity, however, that cars are still allowed in the centre because it might become one of Piemonte´s most fashionable places for tourism, just like Portofino in Liguria or St.Émilion in France. It has all ingredients: amazing history, fascinating and unique cultural monuments, combined with this typical ligurian-piemontese architecture, a most authentic place. Alas, the monsoon rains of November 2014 caused some heavy damage to local roads, even some houses below the fortress had to be closed and some families had to look for another home. Let´s hope all will be restored soon!
And there is wine and gastronomy. Gavi DOCG wine is one of Italy´s first brands next to Barolo and Chianti and one of Italy´s most well-known white wines. It possesses a yellow-straw colour and a wide range of perfumes, sometimes with ripe fruit, acacia, peach, sometimes more neutral. The taste can vary from a very young white with fresh acidity, with some aspects of peach, honey, to a more buttery stile, and especially when aged it can show interesting tertiary perfumes. A perfect partner for fish dishes or with risotto di Gavi. The wine, based exclusively on Cortese grapes, started to be produced as a monovarietal white by Marquis Cambiaso in 1876 AD, followed by other families like the Raggio, Serra, Spinola and Sartorio. Of course the vicinity of the rich city of Genoa and its demand for white wine was the reason. But wine tradition had been established long before, as archives indicate viticulture in Gavi since 972 AD. Gavi DOCG contains 11 communes, covering more than 1400 hectares of vineyards. Although some unofficial sources see Gavi as belonging to Monferrato, it is mostly considered separately. After 1945 however, there was not much interest in Gavi wine, and it only developed its popularity again during the seventies – credits for this achievement go to La Scolca company, which always upheld its belief in the Cortese wine.
foto: Cortese grape
Eating out in Gavi is a delight: authentic local food is offered in several places (see below). The interesting aspect of local cuisine is ligurian influence combined with typical piemontese dishes. Of course risotto from Gavi is always based on local Gavi wine and the region knows a long tradition of making fresh pasta, in addition to the ravioli stuffed pasta, there are also taglierini, lasagnette, also known as stringoni and corzetti, dressed with game mushrooms, tomatoes or pesto sauce, according to the season. Ravioli was invented in Gavi by the Raviolo family. Also farinata and foccaccia are very typical. And try the typical sweet amaretti di Gavi: delicious!
But it´s only by driving around that you will get an impression of the countryside of Gavi which is completely different from all other piemontese wine regions. It helds a large number of castles, and monumental villas, all situated along the pathways crossing the Apennines, many of them still owned by rich families from Genoa who found their summer retreat here. Noble families like Spinola, Imperiali and the Lomellini established here and the Spinola, being bankers, even had the right to coin their own mints. But the area is also different by appearance: here we don’t find the typical hill-territory of Monferrato, it’s more long slowly descending slopes, directly coming from the mountains of the Appenines which are so near, ending up in the flat valley of Alessandria near Novi Ligure.
Foto: The Toledana estate where Marquis Cambiaso started to plant Cortese on a large scale as monovariety in 1876 AD.
The soils of Gavi are generally divided into those more close to the mountains where soils contain limestome with occasional some silicon, a drier soil and more porous which may give the wine more acidity. To the North soils are somewhat richer, with iron and clay, somewhat red-coloured: terreno forte. These small differences in soil types create subtle differences in the style of the wine. Gavi´s climate is clearly influenced by the sea: especially during the summer one can easily feel the fresh sea breeze flowing in, the marein, which is one of the reasons for this territory being so suited for white wine. Winters are cold and summers are windy. Ideal conditions for a fresh and elegant white.
And beautiful it is! With little unspoiled hamlets like Tassarolo, Paroldo, S.Cristoforo and others: again we find much untouched authenticity in these villages, where time has come to a standstill. It is clear that this might be one of Italy’s next touristic hotspots, but let’s hope it will be able to preserve its authenticity. If so this might become Piemonte’s own Portofino.
Providing a list of recommended Gavi wines is impossible – there are too much. Gavi is a very reliable DOCG – and unlike other Italian DOCGs – offers only scarse delusions. Best is to try the website of Gavi´s consorzio: www.consorziogavi.com
There is good Gavi spumante DOCG too: try for example La Ghibellina, Villa Sparina or Morgassi Superiore: unfortunately most of these are produced in limited quantities.
– Cantine del Gavi: this restaurant is among my favourites. The owner is such a modest man! And all family and staff are working to present you the best and the most authentic regional cuisine, all with great service and care. This place will never disappoint you.
– La Gallina: see below.
– L´Ostelliere: after an intensive day in the vineyards this is the best place to relax, one of Piemonte´s most prestigious luxury hotels, with beautiful, spacious rooms, splendidly situated in Gavi´s wine hills. Try also the excellent cuisine (recently received its first *star): La Gallina.
Foto: inside restaurant Cantine del Gavi
Foto: vineyards in Gavi
foto: Villa La Giustiniana of the winery of the same name: one of those splendid villas in Gavi region
Foto: The Rosina sisters, owners of La Mesma winery
Foto: the fortress of Gavi is a symbol of the important role Gavi played in the past: this was always land at the border between States. It´s construction started in 12th century and during the ages it was often rebuild.
Foto: panorama to the Apennine mountains in the South from the fortress
Foto: three protagonists of Gavi: Davide Ferrarese, technical adviser of the consorzio, Massimo Moccagatta, owner of Villa Sparina and Francesco Bergaglio, who is in charge for the promotion for Gavi’s consorzio.
Many thanks to the Consorzio di Gavi.