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Please the Palate

Allison Levine, Please the Palate: Dreaming about La Raia Winery in Gavi, Italy

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It’s a new year and with that comes making resolutions and setting goals. For me, my goals are always about travel. Where will I go? When can I go? While travel is not on my schedule right now, I am dreaming about the trip to Italy that I took a few months ago and the few days I spent at Locanda La Raia in the Gavi region in Piemonte, Italy.

While Piemonte is known for its red wines, such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, Gavi, a region made up of 11 towns in the Province of Alessandria, produces a dry white wine made from the Cortese grape.

Located in the southeast of Piemonte, Gavi is located between Liguria and Lombardy and is only 30 kilometers from the sea. The climate in Gavi sees hot summers and cold winters but temperatures are moderated by cool breezes that come from the sea. The hilly slopes consist of limestone, red volcanic, and clay soils. These are conditions in which Cortese, a grape that dates back to the 17th century, thrives.

It was these conditions, and the proximity to Milano, that drew businessman Giorgio Rossi Cairo to purchase the property of La Raia in 2003. From the beginning, Giorgio’s daughter Caterina Rossi Cairo, and her husband Tom, suggested embodying the principles of biodynamics, and La Raia was Demeter certified in 2007. In 2015, Giorgio’s son Pietro, a corporate lawyer in Milano, joined his father in overseeing the property.

La Raia, located 100 kilometers from Milano, is accessible by car. Exiting the highway is an industrial area yet a short distance later are the rolling hills of Gavi. Pietro told me that his father “never expected to find such a beautiful place so close to Milano”, but in fact they did.

La Raia has 48.5 hectares of vines planted, 40 to Cortese, eight to Barbera, and half a hectare to Pinot Noir. From the 40 hectares, La Raia, under the guidance of winemaker Clara Milani, produces three elegant Gavi wines.


The Gavi DOCG is a blend of Cortese from across the estate. It is fermented with selected native yeasts in stainless steel and spends four months on the lees. The 2020 Gavi DOCG has a pretty nose with floral and stone fruit notes. There is also a light note of hay. On the palate, the wine is fresh and bright with a lovely texture and the acidity beautifully coats the palate.

• Gavi DOCG Riserva Vigna Madonnina

To make a reserve Gavi wine, lower yields are required, and the vineyard must be declared. Only a few producers in Gavi make a Gavi Reserva and La Raia is one of them.

La Raia’s Gavi Reserva comes from the La Madonnina vineyard, located on a south-east facing hill. The grapes are handpicked, destemmed, and pressed. Fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel, the wine spends one and a half years on the lees, followed by six months in the bottle.

The 2018 Gavi DOCG Riserva Vigna Madonnina with notes of citrus, lime pith, apple, and crisp pear, has a brighter and richer nose than the Gavi DOCG. The savory wine has a more intense mouthfeel and a mouthwatering finish.

• Gavi DOCG Pisé

Made only in the best vintages, Pisé is the most important Gavi from La Raia. The grapes come from La Cascinetta, which sits 300 meters above sea level and is one of the oldest vineyards of La Raia.

The grapes are handpicked, gently pressed, and fermented in neutral oak and left on the lees for one year. The wine is then transferred to stainless steel tanks where it spends another year on the lees. It is then bottled and held for six months before release.

The first Pisé was produced in 2005 and is a wine meant for aging. The 2018 Pisé is the first vintage in which the wine was fermented in oak, resulting in a deep, rich nose of baked red apple, lemon, and spices. The wine has a long, concentrated, savory finish.

La Raia is more than a biodynamic winery. The 180-hectare property offers a complete experience. There is the winery, a lake, three apartments for rent, a 12-room boutique hotel, and a restaurant. They also farm spelt and rye, produce honey and raise Fassone cows (a Piemontese breed of cow). In addition, the Cairo Rossi family has an art foundation, Fondazione La Raia, and scattered across the property, in the vineyards, woods, and fields, are site-specific works made by international artists.

I enjoyed two nights at Locanda La Raia. The boutique hotel is in a former mail station that has been converted and renovated. Large windows overlook the vineyards, and the spacious rooms are a mix of rustic and modern charm. On my visit to La Raia, I visited the winery, ate at the restaurant, swam in the pool, relaxed in the garden, and enjoyed drinking the Gavi wines. I am dreaming of returning again soon.

Napa Mayor Scott Sedgley welcomed officials from the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco to announce a new sister city partnership between Napa and Montalcino, Italy.

Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA and a co-host of Crush On This videos on YouTube. Contact her at

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