La Raia, Riserva 2016 Gavi


From €15, £20.14, 21.95 Swiss francs, NZ$32.99, 99 Polish zloty, $30, 3,520 Japanese yen, 179.90 Brazilian real 

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Italian white wine must be the hardest category to summarise. Unlike its red counterpart, there are no easily recognisable combinations of grape and origin such as Barolo or Brunello. With its range of climates, liberal appellation laws and above all, dozens of indigenous grape varieities, it is far harder to pinpoint any definitive characteristics of Italian whites than it would be for Germany or Australia, for example.

What does Soave or Fiano or Frascati typically taste of? For MW students, the thing for which all such Italian whites are often notorious is their neutrality of flavour. And with so few Italian white grapes having colonised foreign countries (there are smatterings of Fiano, Arneis and others around, but don't forget that Pinot Gris/Grigio is really French), there is a distinct lack of global reference to demonstrate a given variety's typicality.

So I have no idea whether the 2016 Riserva from La Raia is especially typical of Gavi and its grape variety Cortese but I do know that it is very delicious.

The grapes come from Raia's La Madoninna vineyard and are farmed biodynamically. To qualify as Gavi Riserva, the potential alcohol must be 11% as opposed to a remarkably low 9.5% for standard Gavi, and the wine must be aged for at least one year (of which six months must be in bottle) before release. No oak is required, however, and La Raia accordingly use stainless steel only.

When I tasted it at the recent Passione Vino tasting in London, it reminded me of Chablis crossed with Mosel Riesling, combining apple and lime fruit with some honeyed notes, plus substantial body and concentration, with a long, slow fade out. At only 12.5% alcohol, it delivers plenty of flavour satisfaction, as well as a chalky, mealy texture that lends itself well to food matching. There is no lack of freshness, either, in its third year since vintage. I scored it 17 and would be happy drinking this over the next five years.

I'm not sure that any of those characteristics would make me think of Gavi if I were tasting this wine blind, nor did it have anything definitively Italian in either its flavour or structure, but that needn't detract from its quality, concentration and enjoyability. At £23 per bottle from the retail arm of Passione Vino, it is comfortably comparable with Chablis premier cru or good trocken Riesling – and that makes it an excellent wine to test on wine-savvy friends, or indeed on long-suffering MW students.

La Raia also make another single-vineyard bottling called Pisé, which is even better in terms of flavour depth and persistence. If the 2016 Riserva is Chablis x Mosel, then the 2014 Pisé is Anjou x St-Véran, with mossy maturity alongside fresh citrus, honey, wax and hard cheese. I even dared to score this 17.5, although that is quite a bit more than Tamlyn and Walter thought of previous vintages, I notice. Passione Vino sell this cuvée at £31 per bottle, and it is available elsewhere from €23.

Find this wine – the 2016 vintage of the Riserva is available in the UK, Brazil and across Europe, while the US, New Zealand, Poland and Japan appear to have older vintages.