La Scolca, masters of Gavi

Gavi is a white wine from Piedmont in Italy made from the Cortese grape variety, usually considered to be the finest white variety of the region. To qualify for the DOCG appellation of Gavi dei Gavi (sometimes listed as Cortese dei Gavi), wines must come from vineyards surrounding the city of Gavi itself.

Almost always appearing as a bone-dry, subtle and mineral style, the wines can sometimes feel rather austere, but can also display elegant and floral, fruity aromas and flavours, always with freshness and crisp acidity at their core. Some spumante styles are made, and a few producers experiment with barrel fermentation, but the core character of Gavi dei Gavi is really about concentration and precision.

One of the most noteable producers of Gavi dei Gavi is Tenuta La Scolca. Today La Scolca is led by Giorgio Soldati, whose great-grandfather purchased the estate in 1919, and his daughter Chiara. The land was originally part-forest and part-grain farm, but the Soldati family planted Cortese vineyards (in an area traditionally used to cultivate red grapes) which they say makes them the oldest Gavi estate in continuous production. Around 50 hectares of vineyards are densely planted with full sun exposure, and pruning and fruit thinning is used to limit yields to below the DOCG requirement.

Plots are harvested and vinified separately, with fruit for their white label coming from 20-year-old vineyards, while fruit from 60-year-old vineyards is reserved for their black label. One extraordinary wine tasted here is their La Scolca d’Antan, a portion of the best fruit from the black label vineyards, but selected and set aside only in the best years, to be vinified on skins with natural yeasts and aged in La Scolca’s cellars for 10 years before release.

I think it is fair to say that there is some scepticism about this estate, due partly to the ambitious £100 price point for the d’Antan cuvée, and partly to the marketing of the wines as an aspirational ‘luxury lifestyle brand’ (there’s a whole section of their web site dedicated to photo’s of celebrities posing with the wines), but in tasting there’s no doubt these are excellent examples of Gavi dei Gavi. The Black Label and d’Antan in particular do raise the bar somewhat against other very good examples I have tasted over the years.

The Wines

(2021) Described by La Scolca as the most tradtional of their Gavis. It is 100% Cortese from the high hills of Rovereto Superiore di Gavi, this is feather-light with 12% alcohol and delicate citrus, fresh-cut apple and some floral nuances. In the mouth it has a fine, juicy, mouth-watering core that is citrus again, but not aggressive, something more peachy comes in as the slightly saline acid fills the finish to give a little richness.
(2021) Made from vines that are 60 years old on average, and quite different from the white label, made with wild yeasts and with lees ageing. Distinctive,  slightly more wild and herbal aromas, pungent, smoky and flinty, lemon rind and peach stones. The palate has a a Chablis-like character, again that flint, ripe apple and lemon, a full texture and quite slippery, oily mouthfeel with excellent concentration, length, and a saline, mouthwatering finish.
(2020) What a fascinating wine, made only in the best years from a selection of the best grapes, this is aged for 10 years before release and is certainly the most expensive Gavi I have tasted by an order of magnitude. This has some skin maceration as well as wild yeast fermentation, the 10 years of ageing all on the lees, and all in small steel barrels, for a very unusual wine. The colour is light gold-green, and the nose has wonderful buttery mint notes, some Chablis-like flint and a crushed almond beneath. In the mouth there's a raft of cool, mouth-watering apple and lemon fruit, quite a rich texture, and that wet stone character. Long and poised it stays cool and precise and is an exceptional wine in many ways.

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