Cortese: The Refreshing White Grape From Piedmont

Cortese is a white grape variety native to Italy’s Piedmont region, and the principal grape in the esteemed Gavi di Gavi wines. Relatively unknown outside of its home country, Cortese offers subtle, refined flavours that whisper rather than shout, making it a delightfully understated white wine that deserves exploration.

A Brief History

Cortese has been grown in Piedmont since the 17th century, with the first recorded mention of it dating back to 1659. Its name, which means “courteous” in Italian, is thought to reflect its gentle, refined characteristics. The grape gained a reputation for producing high-quality white wines, leading to the creation of the Gavi DOCG in 1974, where Cortese is the exclusive grape variety.


Cortese is a medium to late ripening variety that thrives in hilly areas with good sun exposure and chalky, mineral-rich soils. It is known for its naturally high acidity and ability to retain freshness, even in warmer climates. Its hardy nature and consistent yield have made it a favoured variety among growers in Piedmont.

Flavour Profile

Cortese wines are generally light-bodied with a zesty acidity, making them refreshingly crisp. On the palate, they present flavours of green apple, lime, and pear, with floral hints and an often pronounced minerality. Some versions can exhibit notes of almond and honey on the finish, adding to the complexity.

Different Styles of Wine

Most Cortese wines are made in a straightforward, ready-to-drink style to maintain the grape’s bright, fresh character. This includes the majority of wines from the Gavi DOCG, where Cortese is expressed in a pure, unadulterated form. However, there are some producers who experiment with maturation in oak barrels, yielding a more textured, complex style of wine that can age for several years.

Wine Making and Maturation Options

Cortese is usually vinified in stainless steel tanks to preserve its fruity freshness and high acidity. However, some winemakers use oak barrels for fermentation or ageing, which can give the wine added richness, roundness, and notes of spice and vanilla. The grape’s high acidity makes it suitable for sparkling wine production as well.

Important Regions

Cortese is most prominently grown in Italy’s Piedmont region, particularly in the provinces of Alessandria and Asti. The Gavi or Cortese di Gavi DOCG is the most renowned area for Cortese cultivation, producing wines that are noted for their elegance and mineral characteristics.

Food Pairing Suggestions

Cortese’s high acidity and crisp profile make it an excellent companion to seafood dishes, particularly white fish or shellfish. It also pairs well with light poultry dishes, fresh salads, and soft cheeses. Its gentle nature makes it a versatile wine for a variety of light to medium-flavoured dishes.

Cortese may be a lesser-known grape, but its delicate flavours and refreshing acidity make it a hidden gem in the world of Italian whites. Dive into the delightful discovery of Cortese, and let this elegant Piedmontese variety surprise and charm you.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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