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Home | White Varieties | Cortese - The bambino of the boot

Cortese - The bambino of the boot

A veritable baby in relation to its viticulture cousins, the first documentation of Cortese came in 1659 in the Piemonte region in northwestern Italy.  While 350 years is nothing to sneeze at, the wine grapes to the south can provide a deeper appreciation for longevity.  Indeed, some of those varieties were propagated by the ancient Phoenicians 3000 years prior to the emergence of Cortese.  But the grape's youth is indicative of the region as a whole.  While the Romans introduced the vine to Northwest Italy, viticulture as we know it today did not become established until around the 13th century.  Fortunately, Cortese found its niche and remains an important grape in the region.

Where does Cortese Grow?
Vineyard in Gavi
Vineyard in Gavi

Italy- Outside of a very small minority of grape vines, every single Cortese grape is cultivated in the vineyards of Northern Italy.  The primary region associated with its proliferation is the Piemonte.  Within the area, the vineyards in the southeast have had the most success with Cortese, especially the DOCs of Colli Tortonesi, Bianco di Custoza, Oltrepo Paves and Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato.  Yet, Cortese has a particular affinity for one corner of the Piemonte countryside.  In the DOCG of Gavi, the grape thrusts its roots deep in the alluvial soil and enjoys the maritime influence from the Ligurian Sea to the south. Cortese is of such high importance here that some infer that it is responsible for the world's discovery of Italian white wines.  While that can certainly be debated, the fact that it is one of Italy's handful of still fine white wines cannot be overlooked.  The success of Cortese in Piemonte has led to its spread to other Italian reaches including Lombardy, Veneto, and Verona, although none have yet reached the heights achieved in Gavi.

Italian Producers to look for: La Zerba (Gavi), La Scolca (Gavi), Villa Sparina (Gavi), La Toledana (Gavi), Castello Banfi (Gavi), Pio Cesare (Gavi), Beni di Batasiolo (Gavi), Michele Chiarlo (Gavi), Araldica La Battistina (Gavi), Broglia La Meirana (Gavi), and Marchesi di Barolo (Gavi).

The Rest of the World - The only other major wine producing country to boast Cortese vines is Australia. Yet the spread of the grape isn't exactly comparable to wild fire with production limited to one particular winery in Victoria.  Despite its lack of popularity, Cortese has received some early acclaim but even with that recognition it does not seem as if other winemakers are eager to experiment with the Italian bambino.

Cortese Styles

Due to its specificity of locale, there is not quite the abundance of styles produced from the Cortese grape. Most are crisp and dry and pair quite well with the local seafood fished from the Mediterranean. The refreshing whites are typically medium bodied and display lime, herbal, and grassy aromas.  Cortese also is known for the bracing acidity it contains, which is another confirmation of its compatibility with seafood.  Some vintners have tried to soften that dominant characteristic, especially in cool vintages when sugar levels are kept in check, by utilizing malolactic fermentation but it does not seem as if the technique provides any revelations as the tried and true method still reigns supreme. Nevertheless, Cortese will surely be content to continue its growth in Northern Italy, building a legacy that will hopefully one day rival its rivals.

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