In those long ago days before pinot grigio, we drank Soave or maybe Frascati and Gavi when we wanted Italian white wine. Not that we drank much Italian white wine; it was a novelty for a wine drinking culture that assumed all Italian wine was red and came in a wicker-covered bottle.
These days, Italian white wine, mostly pinot grigio, ranks as one of the biggest imports in the country, and wines like the Pio Cesare Gavi ($15, purchased, 12.5%) are something most of us don’t drink. Which is too bad, because the Cesare is well worth drinking, an example of what happens when a top producer puts care and effort into an affordable wine made with a grape, cortese, that is not well regarded.
Look for minerality and a little lemon and dash of herbs in a wine that is so subdued and understated that it takes almost a glass before you understand what is going on. It’s also a stunning value for the price; most quality Gavis cost more than $20, and those at this price are usually too simple for a $15 wine.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for spaghetti with clam sauce with garlic and parsley.
Gavi is one of those Italian wines that lingers in a netherworld ? not as popular as pinot grigio or even Soave and not always easy to find. But when it ?s done well, it ?s a wine that makes you go, ?Wow, why was I wasting my time with all that crappy pinot grigo
Case in point is the Beni di Batasiolo ($14, purchased), which was everything I hoped it would be. This white wine is made with the cortese grape in Piedmont, where it has to vie for attention with some of the best-known Italian red wines, Barbaresco and Barolo among them. Is it any wonder it gets lost in the shuffle?
This wine has bright and fresh lemon fruit, some stoniness (or was that bitter almonds?), and low alcohol ? the kind of balance that the best Italian white wines are known for. It ?s surprisingly versatile, whether you drink it chilled on its own, with grilled seafood, or even with Tuesday night takeout.
Gavi is one of those mysterious Italian wines that is made with one of those mysterious Italian grapes, the cortese. It's a white wine that comes from the Gavi region in a corner of Piedmont, there isn't a whole lot of it, what there is usually doesn't make it to the middle of the country, and it's often quite pricey. If I see Gavi at all, it's on restaurant wine lists, and even then it usually takes a back seat to the Super Tuscans and the rest of the publicity hounds.
So when I found the Araldica ($14, purchased) at a Dallas shop that specializes in Italian wine, and at a price about two-thirds of what most quality Gavis cost, I bought it. And I'm glad I did. The Araldica was much better than I had any right to expect, especially for the price. It had a bit of spice and some lemon fruit, and though it wasn't very sophisticated — no sun-drenched Italian beaches, which is what a great Gavi brings to mind — it was fresh and clean.
I took it to dinner with a wine rep friend of mine, and it was much better than the tired, chain-style Italian food that the restaurant served. Serve the Araldica with any seafood and especially shellfish, and I'm going to buy another bottle to have with spaghetti with clam sauce.