Gaja - September 2012

In 2011 Gaja Day created a huge buzz as we visited hotels, restaurants and retailers around London. Following on from this success, we decided to repeat the exercise with the aim of creating lots of noise about one of our most admired producers.

On Tuesday 18th September, we welcomed Gaia Gaja to London starting with a spectacularly dinner created by Giuseppe Turi at the wonderful Enoteca Turi in Putney. Guests were treated to 6 courses of  Piedmontese delights such as traditional roasted veal and spinach ravioli with butter and sage served with Barbaresco 2008 and roast and braised rabbit with potato gnocchi, spinach and truffle sauce served with Sori San Lorenzo and Sori Tildin 1998. A fabulous start to three days of Gaja activity.

An exclusive event took place at the Italian Embassy as part of the Grandi Marchi group of wineries with VIP guests from the Institute of Masters of Wines. Many keen Decanter readers then flocked to the Institute of Directors to enjoy a similar range of wines from this elite group of wineries.

So to the main event. On 21st September, we took the streets of London and whilst the majority of guests in the luxurious surroundings of The Baglioni Hotel overlooking Hyde Park were enjoying their breakfast, we were discussing new opportunities for the Dagromis. Many bottles of Gaja wines adorned the bar area as well as some of the finest Italy can offer.  Watch this space for some new additions to their list.

A bracing walk down the road took us closer to Knightsbridge and the glamorous and lavish Bulgari Hotel . Already great fans and supporters of the wines, we hope to see more Gaja wines available here in the near future. Remaining in Knightsbridge, the next focus was on tastings of Dagromis with Harvey Nichols and Harrods.

For any wine lover in the world, a visit to Hedonism is sublime.

The busy morning was rewarded with a late lunch at Hertford Street. The chef is a friend of Gaia’s and was only too happy to oblige with some gastronomic delights which left us fortified for the remainder of the day.
Several tastings and visits then followed at the elegant Banca then Novikov, Four Seasons, Sketch and VivatBachus ensure a jam-packed afternoon.

The Armit Wines team then gathered together with Gaia for dinner at Zucca. A well earned rest after a very prosperous day and a chance to discuss our thoughts on the day. Sadly by this stage Gaia, who had been suffering with a cold from her arrival had totally lost her voice. Not even the spectacular Brunello 2006 could help!

Thank you to Gaia for her time and endless energy which makes promoting these spectacular wines so enjoyable.

In addition to the events above, Gaia was invited to join some customers for dinner in what was clearly a fascinating evening for everyone present.

It’s like great Burgundy but with balls”

Mike Laing
Describing the tastes and experiences of wine, especially great wine, is an enormous challenge. Wine is just so subjective in its nature and the pitfalls are so hard to avoid: one poorly chosen phrase and you can quickly be pointed to pseud’s corner or awarded the dunce’s hat. We are lucky to have some remarkably gifted communicators around us, people who happen to be great writers or orators first and foremost but also uniquely knowledgeable about wine. But they are few and far between. The web may be swollen with blogs by passionate people all trying to share their rapture for the subject but only a handful truly succeed. Lacking the true literary talent, so often simplicity and directness would serve them better. Unless you have the turn of phrase of a Johnson or a Jefford, better to give people something with which to exercise their grey matter rather than try to explain it all to them and fall short. Less is more.
We’re all faced with this communication challenge in our daily lives in the world of wine and I am fascinated to see how different people approach it. Last night, provided another opportunity to watch as someone else attempted to describe the indescribable, in this case the characteristics of the greatest Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
As the title suggests, the phrase was perhaps not the most elegant but it did make a lot of sense and as it was Gaia Gaja, daughter of the legend of Piedmont Angelo Gaja who uttered it, it somehow seemed more acceptable as well as undoubted amusement. Here is someone who has Nebbiolo coursing through her veins. Born and raised in Barbaresco, 5thgeneration of a groundbreaking family, ambassador for the region, even for Italy as a whole. Gaia travels the world, enthusiastically showing her family’s great wines to adoring fans and cynics alike, rightly proud to show people that the best Piedmontese wines can go hand to hand with any in the world. She needs to explain in great detail and with great care what it is about her region and her family’s work that is special. So how does she choose to get the message across?
Having spent a grueling day pouring wine for both trade and Decanter readers at the Grandi Marchi events, Gaia joined four eminent wine lovers and I for dinner. The venue was 28-50 Marylebone, the latest opening for Xavier Rousset and set to be an outstanding success, following on from siblings Texture and 28-50 Fetter Lane. Xavier is one of the most wine-friendly restaurateurs in London, not seeking to gouge his clients with extortionate mark-ups but encouraging people to drink well and try different, exciting things. Please do support him!
So, table booked and corkage negotiated we settled in for a quite brilliant evening. Gaia is always fond of trying wines from other regions (always a great sign in my book) and so the first two flights of wine were white and red burgundy: 1985 & 1992 Chevalier Montrachet, Domaine Leflaive followed by 1999 Musigny, J-F. Mugnier & 2000 Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Armand Rousseau. Senior bottles indeed from a region particularly appreciated by the group, all of whom had contributed generously. As I have written before, you need to give wines like these time, both in the bottle and especially at the table. The Chevaliers were knock-outs, both utterly delicious, the ’85 profund and offering fragrant suggestions of delicate white truffle, the ’92 exotic in its fruit, racy in its acidity and energy. We tracked them over the course of several hours and yet these wines, both in their third decade, showed no sign of fading. They have plenty of life ahead of them and re-affirmed just how wonderful mature white burgundy can be.
We’ll get to Piedmont in a moment, I promise but we can’t ignore a sumptuous pair of Pinots. The 1999 vintage in Burgundy is, to my mind, a really special one. The only real problem to manage was the generous yield but if that was done, the wines are consistently excellent and set for a long life. Frédy Mugnier’s Musigny is a magnificent infant, a wine of enormous potential but on this showing, best left alone. The star of the pair on the night was undoubtedly Rousseau’s 2000 Clos de Bèze, offering sweet fruit and glimmers of spice with rigour and refinement harmoniously aligned. Lip-smacking stuff.
And so, having enjoyed our Burgundies, debated them, particularly the old chestnut of whether to decant or not to decant, and having tackled some truly excellent steaks, which had been preceeded by perfectly executed foie gras, we arrived at our “balls” moment.
The final flight was all about Gaja: 2000 Sperss & 1971 Sori San Lorenzo. A couple of the group had been with me to Piedmont a few years before, so I knew that they had a strong grasp on the region. However, nothing could have prepared us for the glory of the 1971. On my left was a gentlemen with one of the finest collections of wine I know of and who had drunk an 1881 Musigny for lunch that same day (and that is not a typo!). Seeing his face so startled by the fireworks emerging from his glass, it was clear he was having something of a Piedmont epiphany. As I looked around the table, I could see that everyone was totally engrossed in the wine, coming back time and again to explore every nuance, every detail. Gaia allowed herself the broadest of smiles and having so captured the table, simply said “It’s like great Burgundy but with balls”.
There it was. The thoughts of four great minds and one wine merchant neatly summarised for us in one comment. Yes, we could have searched the depths of our vocabulary, evoked Proust, recalled our own tasting experiences and anecdotal tales of legendary libation but no more needed to be said. The phrase allowed everyone to locate their senses and engage them in the quite wonderful wine in front of them and appreciate its every facet without having to puzzle further. It not only provided a link to the wines enjoyed just before and lightened the mood as seriousness momentarily took over but it also conveyed family and regional pride, as well as self-confidence and humour. And despite the suggestion of flippancy, it didn’t understate the brilliance of the wine in question. This was indeed a wine as great as any great Burgundy that the group could remember and yet seemed to have something uniquely different about it too.
It was a tough opponent to be up against but the Sperss 2000 acquitted itself extremely well, much as you would expect although it’s about five, if not ten, years away from its prime. I reflected on the way home that it’s not often that a Musigny from Mugnier from a great vintage is decidedly mid-pack on a night, such was the embarrassment of riches that we had enjoyed and shared together. But wines, generosity, indulgence and great company aside, it was Gaia’s effortless turn of phrase that stuck most in the memory and shows that the future for this great estate is brighter than ever.

9th October 2012 - Mike Laing, Angelo Gaja & Gaia Gaja

Last week, I spent a day in the company of Angelo and Gaia Gaja at the family’s magnificent estate in Barbaresco. The final grapes of the 2012 harvest were just coming in and the smell of freshly fermenting Nebbiolo hung headily all around. Piedmont is a captivating place even in the middle of a foggy winter but on a bright autumnal day with the spirit of la vendimmia running high, it was indeed hard to contemplate the drive back to the airport.

For a little diversion, we undertook a mini-vertical of Dagromis and Conteisa. Gaja enjoys world-renown for their Barbaresco wines, including the three iconic single vineyards but this focus on Barolo showed the tremendous quality that they are achieving across the hills and valleys to the south-west.
We looked first at Dagromis. This is 100% estate-grown Nebbiolo, now sourced from two contrasting vineyards, one in Serralunga, the other in La Morra of which a previous owner was the Gromis family. We tasted 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The vintage characters were evident immediately but so too was the evolution of quality, with the most recent vintages showing an elevated quality of tannins and an overall completeness that was less evident in the earlier wines. The 2007is the current release (£195 per six IB) and it strikes the perfect balance between rich, ripe, accessible fruit and proper tannic structure. I can think of few more pleasurable Baroli at this price level. The upcoming 2008 is certainly worth keeping an eye out for too- a terrific Barolo vintage with extra precision and purity, together with impressive energy and persistence.
Conteisa is the Piedmontese word for “dispute” and refers to the long quarrel between the communes of Barolo and La Morra for rights to the Cerequio vineyard. This prized site consistently featured at the very top of unofficial regional classifications over the years and Gaja have owned 10 hectares here since 1995, of which 4 hectares in the heart of the plot are for Conteisa. As with the other single-vineyard wines, Gaja choose to keep the historic practice of allowing Barbera in the blend (here it is 8%).
The crus of La Morra (and Cerequio in particular) are renowned for the heightened levels of refinement and poise, contrasting with the more robust wines from Serralunga and Monforte. At 380m, these are some of the highest vineyards on the Gaja estate, the elevation cooling the effects of the southerly aspect in the summer yet paradoxically protecting the vineyards from the harshest frosts on the valley floor in the winter.
I tasted 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001 and 1999. Star of the show for drinking now was the quite beautiful 2001, a vintage of true splendor in the region. Of the younger wines, 2007 was the hedonist’s choice, rich creamy forest fruit but yet with good acidity- the Barbera again showing its virtues one suspects. For the longhaul, the 2005 is a dark horse to follow. Today it shows tight tannic structure but there is great minerality imbedded within and we suspected that this will be a magnificent bottle in another 5-10 years time.
All wines offered subject to remaining unsold, E&OE, prices per case in bond
Dagromis 2007 @ £195 per six
A savoury, spice-filled nose, light notes of tar and basalm. On the palate, the attack is calm and relaxed, the wine gently building in intensity on the palate before showing a flourish of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. The finish shows richness and ripeness, well integrated tannins and minerality starting to emerge too. Classic and delicious. Drink now-2020
Conteisa 2007 @ £595 per six
Rich forest fruits on the nose, this is powerful and forward. On the palate, a creaminess adds to the rich compote with notes of balsamic and mint alongside. There is heightened glycerol giving a sense of volume but the acidity keeps this firmly in check, ensuring shape and style. This is beautiful yet boisterous wine that can be enjoyed now but has enough class and energy to age for many years. Drink now-2025+
The 2007 Langhe Conteisa is impeccably ripe and silky on the palate, with expressive La Morra red fruits, flowers, mint and spices that emerge from the glass. This is another soft, seamless wine from Gaja, with gorgeous purity in the fruit that carries through all the way to the deeply satisfying, creamy finish. The tannins remain impeccably refined and beautifully balanced with the fruit. The wine is likely to firm up a touch in bottle, but it should be one of the most accessible of Gaja’s 2007s. The 2007 is easily among the finest Conteisas ever made. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2027. 95 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate #187
Conteisa 2006 @ £595 per six
(not tasted)
The 2006 Langhe Conteisa is a beautifully firm, transparent wine endowed with expressive red fruits, menthol, flowers and licorice. The 2006 is decidedly more reticent than the 2007, but it shows tons of harmony, length and class. The finish is utterly seductive. Anticipated maturity: 2016-2026. 94 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate #187
Conteisa 2005 @ £595 per six
An appealing, classic nose with floral perfumes and a touch of mocha,  on the palate this turns inward, with tannins holding sway over fruit today. As you work the wine, the imbedded minerality is revealed with a  salty tang on the finish. This needs plenty of patience but the rewards are certainly there. Drink 2017-2025+.
The 2005 Conteisa is soft, floral and accessible in its perfumed red fruits. This is an especially supple and easygoing Conteisa that looks to be relatively early maturing. Although the 2005 doesn’t have the complexity or structure of the finest vintages, it compensates for that with lovely balance and a long, polished finish. Conteisa is made from vines in the Cerequio vineyard in La Morra. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020 91 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate #182
Conteisa 2004 @ £650 per six – very limited availability
On the nose, notes of sour cherry, tobacco, balsamic, quinine and tar make for a complex array of aromas. Clearly beginning its transition to a secondary phase, this continues in a savoury vein and show finely grained tannins and fine backbone, everything totally in line. This is in a really good place now but has plenty of room to run. Drink now-2025+
The 2004 Langhe Conteisa, from vineyards in La Morra, is especially dark-toned and rich in this vintage. Made in an uncharacteristically weighty, opulent style for this wine, it reveals plenty of ripe dark fruit, spices, new leather, licorice and tar. With air it gradually turns more feminine and delicate, yet it remains a gorgeous, sumptuous wine of outstanding pedigree. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2022. 94 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate #174
Conteisa 2001 @ £700 per six - very limited availability
Immediate love. This welcomes you in, smiles at you and makes you forget all of your troubles. A wine of sheer delight, this is poised, confident, engaging and has it all. Perfume, sweet fruits, savoury notes, fresh acidity, grip- it lacks for nothing. Great wine. Drink now-2020+
The 2001 Conteisa has aged beautifully. The fruit remains fresh, vibrant and beautifully delineated from start to finish. Ripe red berries, flowers, mint and licorice are all woven together in this deeply expressive, sumptuous Conteisa. The 2001 boasts fabulous density to match the layered, polished finish. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2023. 92 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate #200
Conteisa 1999
Always a treat to taste a fully mature example, this is now mellow with evolved secondary notes of dried fruits, spices and tar. What it lacks in youthful brightness it makes up for in depth. Tannins are fully integrated given it a gentle, stately feel. Lovely example. Drink now-2020.
1999 Langhe Conteisa—Medium ruby. Gaja’s 1999 Conteisa, from the Cerequio cru in La Morra, is the most approachable of this set of wines. It offers a delicate, perfumed nose, along with notes of ripe red fruit, spices and sweet toasted oak with excellent length as well as balance and fine tannins. Here the softer La Morra fruit seems a bit dominated by the oak. 92/drink after 2007, 03/06 92 points, Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate, In the Cellar
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