A little way inland from the port city of Genoa, we find ourselves suddenly in a stunning, undulating landscape. The province of Alessandria, Piemonte, is a treasure trove of history bearing clues to lives gone by: ancient medieval towns with old stone walls; resplendent Roman churches; pastoral settlements, castles, flour and water mills, dotting the hills- bountiful green and a wash of pastel hues, lavender, turquoise, ochre and sienna.
We are here in this picturesque Italian enclave to visit Gavi, and Tenuta San Giacomo- one of the youngest and most dynamic wine projects in the region. Gavi, the comune for which the wine is named, is really a small village, with an impressive fortress and a Romanesque church named San Giacomo after the patron saint.
The azienda of Tenuta San Giacomo lies just a few miles from the Gavi centre, on the hills of the Ligurian pre-Apennines. The winery is a small property that sits at the foot of a steep hill; the vineyards lie atop this cliff, at an altitude of 1300 meters and with a view of the village of Gavi and the mountains beyond.
Tenuta San Giacomo is a special wine project by Dario Bergaglio of La Chiara, one of the most important Gavi producers that has been operating in the region since well before it got its DOC status in 1974 (and subsequent DOCG in 1998). Dario’s great grandfather was an absolute pioneer and guardian of Gavi, contributing to the first bottle of Gavi in the world. He laid the groundwork to ensure the legacy of this wonderful wine.
Dario is fourth generation, and a breath of fresh air on the Gavi scene. He is friendly and charming, walking the rows of vines come rain or shine. After many years abroad studying economics and political science in the UK and France, Dario explains he felt Gavi calling. He arrived back to the family business with a new strength of international experience, and took the helm.
The project Tenuta San Giacomo was born from the great relationship between Dario and Andrea Fassone in 2010 to try to tell the story of the Tenuta family, and to bring a fresh perspective to their wonderful wines. Gavi, or Cortese di Gavi, must be made from 100% cortese grapes- an extremely ancient varietal whose existence is reported from at least the 17th century. It is dry, white, and fashionable, yet, thankfully, not over-produced. The DOCG restricts production to a small area that allows Gavi to retain its high quality and rare reputation.
We take a walk with Dario through some of the 20 hectares of vineyards owned by the estate, and cultivated according to the passion and the tradition of the Bergaglio family.
“This is a very individual microclimate,” Dario tells us, “We are 35km from Genoa, and about the same to the Apennines, so we have this amazing balance. There are cool nights, and warm days… sometimes we can really taste the marine breeze in the vineyards.”
The diurnal range certainly contributes to the elegant aromatic qualities of Gavi, and protects its fresh acidity. The vines are low yielding and old, and the fruit concentration is high. Gavi is a special wine, and Dario is making one of the most remarkable versions.
After all this talk, we can’t wait to finally taste the Gavi of Tenuta San Giacomo, in the rightful setting- overlooking the land.
Through Dario’s ambition for invention, Gavi reaches two full and diverse expressions. Gavi is young, fresh, dry and balanced. Straw-yellow and flecking to green in colour, the palate is full, delicate and elegant with flowers and fresh fruit- lemons, lilies, peaches, bananas and green apples, perhaps a hint of bitter almonds. Its minerality comes from the soil, making the wine fresh and palate cleansing. This is an easy-going, food friendly wine, a perfect partner to sushi, steamed and even fried fish.
The complexity of flavors in Gavi means it ages wonderfully well, with intense and surprising tertiary aromas. Tenuta San Giacomo’s Black Label is a multi-faceted expression- the wine is fermented with skin contact and refined on the lees for a year, resulting in a defined structure matching richer foods- risotto or Toma Piemontese DOP- a local, aged, and slightly-spicy cows-milk cheese.
‘I have always dreamt of making complex wines,’ Dario explains, and the Black Label fulfils this, however these two Gavis are complementary- one to start the meal and one to conclude.
‘These wines make you want to drink another glass,’ says Dario, smiling, bottle in hand. And he doesn’t have to tell us twice!