Wines by Grape
Cortese is a white grape variety that is most famous for its role in the crisp, lime-scented wines of Gavi. The variety is known for its bracingly high acidity and its ability to retain freshness, even when grown in hot environments. Apple, peach and honeydew flavors are commonly associated with Cortese wine, with lime, almond and light herbal or grassy aromas.
The variety has been grown in the southeastern part of Piedmont for hundreds of years, and is mentioned in documents that date back to the beginning of the 17th Century. It has long been considered as Piedmont’s finest white variety and is often credited as introducing the world to Italian white wine. Nowadays, however, it has been usurped somewhat by Arneis and Moscato d’Asti.
While Gavi wines are the grape’s most famous incarnation, a few varietal wines are made from Cortese in other parts of Piedmont: namely Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato and Colli Tortonesi. It is blended into Bianco di Custoza wines alongside Trebbiano and Garganega, and is also found in Oltrepo Pavese wines from Lombardy to the east.
Cortese must be watched carefully in the vineyard to ensure success: it is a vigorous, productive vine and if yields are not kept in check then the wines can be bland and lacking in character. Ripeness is another key issue – while it does well in Gavi’s warm environs, it can struggle to ripen fully in other parts of Piedmont. This leads to wines with almost unmanageably high acidity, which is why Cortese is used more often as a minor blending grape outside of its home town.
Some producers use malolactic fermentation to mitigate the variety’s high acidity, but it is usually produced in a crisp, dry style. High acidity can be useful to growers as well – Cortese is sometimes used to make sparkling wines.
Thin skins mean that the variety is used as a table grape, which has contributed to its success in Piedmont, but it also means that Cortese is quite sensitive to rot.
A little Cortese is grown in Australia’s Victoria region, but at this stage the plantings remain fairly experimental.