Cortese is a white Italian wine grape variety predominately grown in the southeastern regions of Piedmont in the provinces of Alessandria and Asti. It is the primary grape of the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) wines of Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato and Colli Tortonesi as well as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wine of Cortese di Gavi. Significant plantings of Cortese can also be found in the Lombardy region of Oltrepò Pavese and in the DOC white blends of the Veneto wine region of Bianco di Custoza. Cortese has a long history in Italian viticulture with written documentation naming the grape among the plantings in a Piedmontese vineyard as early as 1659. The grape's moderate acidity and light flavors has made it a favorite for the restaurants in nearby Genoa as a wine pairing with the local seafood caught off the Ligurian coast
One of the earliest documentation of the Cortese grape dates back to a 1659 report to the Marchesa Doria from the estate manager of the family's villa in Montaldeo states that all the vineyards were planted with Cortese and Vermentino. In 1870, the ampelographers P.P. DeMaria and Carlo Leardi noted that the Cortese was being widely cultivated in the Alessandria province of Piedmont where it was prized for its hardiness to grape diseases and ability to produce large crop yields as well as it high quality wine.
Today Cortese is most widely associated with the DOCG wine Cortese di Gavi produced in the Gavi region of Alessandria. There are significant plantings of the grape throughout southeastern Piedmont including the DOC wine producing areas of Colli Tortonesi and Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato located a few miles to the west of Gavi and of Monferrato Casalese Cortese which extends to the Basso Monferrato north of the Tanaro. Despite its close proximately, Cortese has a significant more difficult time fully ripening in Tortona and Monferrato than in Gavi. Piemonte Cortese DOC can be made in the Province of Cuneo to the west, as well as those of Alessandria and Asti.
Outside of Piedmont the grape can be found in significant quantities in the Oltrepò Pavese, part of the Province of Pavia in Lombardy which borders the Province of Alessandria. Further east, Garda Cortese DOC is produced in the hills near Lake Garda (provinces of Brescia and Mantova in Lombardy, and the province of Verona in the Veneto). The grape may also be used as part of the blend for the Bianco di Custoza DOC, also near Lake Garda in the Province of Verona. As of 2000, there were 3,800 acres (1,500 hectares) of Cortese planted through out Italy.
Viticulture and winemaking
Wines made Cortese (particularly those from the DOCG Gavi) have long been favored by restaurants in the southern neighboring port of Genoa as a wine pairing with the local seafood caught off the Ligurian coast. The wine's moderate acidity and light, crisp flavors pair well with the delicate flavors of some fish. Cortese wines tend to be medium bodied with notes of limes and greengage. In vintages that are particularly cool, the wines can be aggressively acidic and lean but winemaking techniques such as malolactic fermentation and oak barrel fermentation can temper that.
This grape variety is cultivated mainly in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria (the Gavi and Tortona zones). It is also grown in other areas beyond the regional boundaries, such as Oltrepò Pavese and Veneto.
The adult leaf is medium sized or medium-large, wedge or pentagon shaped and, depending on the clones, with between three and five lobes. The blade is dark green with a puckered surface, cupped profile and slightly twisted lobes. The ripe bunch is average in size, cylinder or pyramid shaped, with one or two short twigs and a short, green peduncle. The medium-small berry is a greenish yellow colour; the skin is very delicate, making it susceptible to mechanical damage or damage due to attack by parasites.
Germination: medium period (second ten days of April).
Grape ripening: medium period (by the end of September).
Aptitude for cultivation and use
This is a strongly flourishing grape variety with constant, high productions. Cortese copes well with various training and pruning techniques, from the most traditional, such as the espalier system (with Guyot or spurred cordon pruning), to the more expansive techniques, which however tend to penalise the grape quality. It is sensitive to oidium. Cortese grapes are used to make fresh, light wines as well as those with greater structure and personality and dry Spumante wines.
Follows, by region, a list of all DOC and DOCG where the use of this vine is allowed
Tortona hills - 100%
Cortese Alto Monferrato - 85 to 100%
Gavi or Cortese di Gavi - 100%
Piemonte - 85 to 100%
Garda and Garda Classico - 85 to 100%
Oltrepò Pavese - 85 to 100%
White Custoza - 20 ÷ 30%