An evening with Angelo Gaja

Wednesday evening I had the great pleasure of tasting the great Gaja wines with Angelo Gaja himself and a few close friends.

What a treat!

He is a living legend but it’s what he has done and continues to do that makes him extraordinary. He’s also a charming laid-back gentleman with a nice self-effacing wit.

Angelo Gaja is first and foremost a driven perfectionist who does things as he sees best. We all benefit from quality-driven practices and Gaja’s somewhat extreme approach comes at a cost – you have to decide if it’s worth the high price.

What we now regard as standards are the product of his progressive innovations:

– single vineyard bottling

– ageing in French barriques

– temperature-controlled fermentation

– estate only sourcing

Gaja uses only its estate fruit; no negotiant fruit is purchased. His single vineyard wines are Langhe Rosso, not Barolo or Barbaresco even though they could be classified as such (except for the Darmagi). He refuses to do so. He even adds 5-6% Barbera to the Nebbiolo for balance. When he labels the wine Barbaresco, it is a blend from his finest vineyards. That way, the wine reflects the essence of Barbaresco rather than a single vineyard.

So quality conscious is he that he made no wine in 2002 and none in Piedmont in 2003. He sold off all the juice to others. He will only produce wine when the vintage is up to his high standards. It must be incredibly expensive to operate this way but Gaja’s reputation is preserved as Italy’s finest producer.

Below are my reviews of the wines tasted last Wednesday. All the wines are currently available except as noted.

Tuscany

2005 Ca’ Marcanda Magari (50% Merlot, 25% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) $68.99/bottle

Beautiful ruby color. With complex aromas of black cherry, cedar, cassis and green moss. Rich smooth palate of black cherry, black currant, cassis and anise. Give me a big steak!

“Offers beautiful aromas of currant, blackberry and Indian spices, with a perfumed floral undertone. Full-bodied, balanced and refined. Very long and pretty. Gaja continues to improve here every year. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best after 2010″ 92 points, The Wine Spectator

2000 Pieve Santa Restituta “Rennina” Brunello di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese Grosso) $94.99/bottle

Delicious! Classic garnet color. Spicy nose of cherry. Big, lush flavors of cherry and black cherry, with a hint of anise and toast boosted by mouth-watering acidity. Great now and over the next 3-5 years.

“Gaja’s 2000 Brunello di Montalcino Rennina opens with a floral nose followed by sweet red fruit with slight signs of over-ripeness on an open, soft-textured frame of much finesse. The slightly advanced color suggests this won’t be a terribly long-lived wine, but it is a great choice for drinking today and over the next 8-10 years. Anticipated maturity: 2006-2016.” Antonio Galloni for Robert Parker, 90 points

Piedmont

2005 Barbaresco (100% Nebbiolo) $206.99/bottle (July arrival)

The favorite wine of the night, along with the Brunello and the Magari. Smoke, truffle, crushed berries. Flavors of blueberry, blackberry, plum and toast, held in place by medium-grained tannins. This wine needs time.

“Good deep red. Musky raspberry, minerals and a whiff of dusty oak on the nose. Spicy red fruit flavors offer good juicy cut and verve. A lively, firmly structured midweight that offers very good mouth coverage and finishes persistent and classically dry.” 88-91 points Tanzer

1998 Sperss (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera), from the Barolo zone

$226.99/bottle 95 Arnaldo points

Stunning aromas of crushed leaves, rose pedals, crushed red berry fruit with a hint of anise and pipe tobacco. Rich, lush flavors of raspberry, cherry, vanilla, anise and truffle. A “wow” wine which would be amazing with wild boar ragu (cinghiale). Great now.

“(these vines are 36 years old) Saturated, deep ruby-red. Perfumed, multidimensional aromas of plum, currant, tar, smoke and camphor. Sweet on entry, then superconcentrated and rich in the middle palate, with great chewy depth and compelling inner-mouth aromas. Like the San Lorenzo, this resounds in the mouth and on the very long finish. The sappy sweetness carries through on the aftertaste, ending with a suggestion of marzipan.” 95+ points Stephen Tanzer

2001 Darmagi (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc) from the Barbaresco zone $212.99/bottle 94 Arnaldo points

This vineyard takes its name from the local dialect expression for “what a pity,” a comment Angelo Gaja’s father, Giovanni, once uttered when he found out that the vineyard was to be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, instead of Nebbiolo, in 1978. Nearly opaque garnet color. Aromas of ripe plum, cassis, chocolate/cherry liqueur. Dense, lush palate of impenetrable black fruit with edges of blueberry and black currant. Smooth, integrated tannins. Drink now -2012

“Bright ruby-red. Warm, rich and inviting aromas of cassis, licorice, minerals, earth, graphite and smoky oak. Sweet, rich, broad and enveloping, with layered, building flavors of black fruits, violet, licorice, dark chocolate, tobacco and minerals. An exceptionally suave, varietally true cabernet from the Piedmont , with a seamless texture and compelling inner-mouth sweetness. Very rich, ripe and long on the finish. This may be even more complete than the very strong 1999 version, which in late September was penetrating, youthful and tightly wound.” 93 points Tanzer

2005 Sori Tilden (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera) $466.99/bottle

(August arrival)

The word “sori” is the Piedmontese word for a hilltop with a southern exposure. “Tild’n” was the nickname of Angelo Gaja’s grandmother, Clotilde Rey. A bit of chocolate mint, damp forest floor aromas. Mouth-filling, concentrated raspberry fruit with hints of truffle and chocolate.

“Red-ruby. Pungent aromas of plum, earth, truffle, minerals and tea. Concentrated and sweet, with a distinctly higher-pitched quality than the Costa Russi; lively acids give the flavors more definition, but the firm tannins are a bit youthfully spiky today. Impressively juicy and concentrated wine.” 91-94 points Tanzer

2005 Sori San Lorenzo (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera) $466.99/bottle

(August arrival)

Smoke and violets, cassis and licorice aromas. Dense black fruit, black tea and toast on the palate. This wine is built for long-term cellar ageing. The very long finish is sensational!

“Bright ruby-red. Pure, very ripe, highly complex aromas of blackberry, violet, minerals, graphite, licorice and tar. Densely packed and seamless, with terrific cut to its lush flavors. Very sexy flavors of violet and amaro-like bitter herbs. The class of these 2005s today.” 93-95 points Tanzer

2005 Costa Russi (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera) $466.99/bottle

(August arrival)

The shyest of aromas, whiffs of rose pedal, violets. Big raspberry and blackberry fruit extended by good acidity, finishing with toast, a nod to the closed massive tannins.

“Full ruby-red. Dark raspberry, minerals, rose petal and a whiff of tar on the nose, along with a chocolatey impression of ripeness. Dense, suave and youthfully closed, with the flavors of violet, minerals and chocolatey oak displaying increasing definition with aeration. Showing its oaky side today and tannic on the back end.” 90-93 points Tanzer

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