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Gavi-Piedmont's other wine

The red gem in Italy's crown is Piedmont. Barolo and Barbaresco are heralded wines made from her famous nebbiolo grape. Those of us with a tighter budget know that Piedmont's everyday reds, made from the grapes barbera or dolcetto are worthy of praise too. But not many people know about one of Piedmont's softer selections, a white wine called Gavi.

Like most bottles of wine from Europe, Gavi is named for the town rather than the grape. This naming convention not only follows tradition, but distinguishes wine made in Gavi, from lesser cortese from other areas. Gavi is made with the cortese grape, but outside of Gavi cortese has a history of producing poor quality wines. It struggles to ripen and oxidizes quickly, losing its fresh, lively qualities. But folks in Gavi know that with proper care, cortese can make voluptuous, succulent wines. This is why they boast the name Gavi.

Records indicate that cortese has been around for at least 400 years, but it has only been in the last century that techniques in preventing oxidization have elevated it to the stature it deserves. Gavi is described in terms of nectarines, apricots, citrus zest, honey, fresh herbs and minerals. Some Gavi is slightly carbonated or frizzante, which gives it a touch ceremony. Soft and exotic, it carries an air of distinction.

Gavi enjoys the premier designation of D.O.C.G. like its neighbors Barolo, Barbaresco, Asti, and Gattinara. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) is a guarantee from the Italian government the wine is of exceptional quality. Look for small production bottles of Gavi that sport the names of their vineyards or villages, such as Fornaci, Rovereto, Alessandria and La Rocca and of course, Gavi di Gavi. Producers that can be found on the shelves and wine lists in Colorado are Michele Chiarlo, Pio Cesare, Coppo, Massone Stefano, Broglia, and Principessa Perlante (frizzante).

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Alvarinho The Portuguese call alvarinho the 'Queen' of all Portuguese white grapes. A title well deserved for this elegant wine. It is lush with creamy flavors of apricots and peaches and complimented by a marriage of white flowers and minerals. This exotic and perfume-like grape grows in a few obscure areas of Spain and Portugal exclusively. The Spanish call it albariņo. The northern area of Portugal is known for old vines that are 50, 60, and 70+ years old. Alvarinho (ahl-vah-ree-nho) is a small berried, low yielding grape with a thick skin that is difficult to vinify. When pressed, alvarinho offers small amounts of juice compared to other varieties. For these producers, showcasing alvarinho's luscious quality is more important than following market trends. They are not swayed by the popularity of other varietals and resist the urge to pull up their sluggish old vines for high yield mainstream grapes. Their steadfast devotion to this frustrating, yet superior varietal, is paying off; alvarinho has a small but growing following here in the U.S. It is believed that alvarinho was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by monks on a religious pilgrimage from France in the twelfth century. Others believe that it evolved from Riesling and was brought to the area by German monks. A third camp believes that alvarinho is an indigenous grape. Regardless of where it came from, its elegant presence has been cherished for hundreds of years. Its acidity offers a wonderful balance to its freshly sliced peach and apricot flavors. If it has undergone malolactic fermentation, the wine can be drunk while young. If it has not undergone malolactic fermentation the wine can age for a few years developing a floral canvas of flavors. Alvarinho is a wonderful example of the extraordinary and exotic wines that wait for us if we just choose to look for them.