Finally I’ve managed to share my thoughts on a very special & intimate afternoon with Gaia Gaja at Boccaccio Cellars earlier this year. A big shout out to Anthony D’Anna for organising such a delicious event and Gaia Gaja for being such a human hostess.
Gaja is at once both one of the world’s wine icons and a controversial winery bucking “traditional wisdom” often being the trend setter rather than the follower. For me, it’s a sign that the Gaja’s have passion, focus, and, that they are pushing the boundaries.
Over the last six months I’ve drunk Gaja’s wines from over 5 decades of production. One thing has been clear, they are evolving and pushing to make the best wines they can. This evolution has not been insulated from changes in the wine world. Historically, across the world’s greatest wine regions, think Barolo, Barbaresco, Burgundy, Tuscany, traditional winemaking has been interrupted by curiosity with the potential of new world winemaking techniques. Gaja has not been immune from this trend, use of high levels of new oak has being the most obvious example. Something I’m glad to say has been tempered in recent times.
Gaja has a long history stretching back to it’s very beginnings in 1859. The transformation from an largely unknown winery in a region, not valued by consumers to one of the worlds most famous wineries in a very special region certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Gaia Gaja shared with us the history of Barbaresco, the Gaja winery, the challenge of establishing recognition for the region and what the future holds. One thing is certain, the Gaja’s aren’t afraid of pushing against the rules, some rules are meant to be broken. They have had to declassify their Barbaresco from DOCG status simply because the rules don’t fit what they believe is the best way to make their wine. With a nifty slight of tongue, Gaia, refers to this as a reclassification. A simple example being that they tend to pick early before the permitted time for a DOCG to pick. Why because higher vine density, lower yield per vine, flavour ripeness earlier, better natural acid etc. If they waited they could have DOCG, but, they would not be giving their fruit the best opportunity to shine.
Below is a 20 minute video exert from the discussion.
What Separates Exceptional Wineries?
When you look at the great wine producers of the world they often have many things in common. Two of those being passion and continuity.
Passion just makes sense. Continuity well that’s a challenge. Good vignerons are always looking at their wines and vineyards, trying to make them yummier, healthier, more balanced, often by doing less, but, doing it better. Having the knowledge of the past, interrogating trends to find often simple ways to improve is critical. Seeing a vineyard in a cool years, hot years, observing the little patch of vineyard that is not performing and nurturing it. Some wineries employ precision agriculture with high tech imaging of vineyards, others, the eyes of trusted colleagues who have worked with them for decades. These eyes come to know each site, each vine and tend to them like they would a child. This philosophy has given them an intimate understanding of their terroir.
This is precisely the reason Gaja only employ permanent staff. Like many of the world’s great estates Gaja shifted from buying fruit to supplement production to buying and controlling great sites. In the early years as the Gaja Estate expanded, they were forced to purchase old run down houses with vineyards. Over time these have been restored and are now offered rent free to their staff.
The Challenges for the Future
There’s one trend that everyone in the wine world has had to address recently. Every time I catch up with a grape grower or winemaker I always ask what are you working on. Increasingly the response is “Managing climate change”.
Gaia explains the impact of climate change as helping them achieve greater consistency from year to year. The challenge being resultant higher alcohol and pH, with lower acids, fuller riper wines. Now instead of worrying about getting fruit ripe, they worry about sugar accumulation racing ahead of flavour and tannin development producing out of balance wine. On the upside it has opened up opportunities, the grape bunch stalks are now ripening allowing their incorporation into wine, adding tannin, spice and perfume.
The focus has been on rebalancing in the vineyard to meet this challenge. They’ve put money behind their beliefs and are adapting to change by experimenting. They’ve hired half a entomologists (insect gurus) & horticulturist (plant gurus and more) seeking to disrupt their thinking. Not necessarily taking direction from them, but, pushing themselves to use this knowledge combined with their wisdom, gleaned from over 150 years of tending the land to develop their own approach.
Biodiversity – Flowers, Bees, Trees
Looking after soil health, moisture levels and temperature.
They have replaced direct fertilising using manures, with composting. Composting stalks, vine cuttings, used grape skins and manures allows the worms they’ve imported from America to further process organic waste and add nutrients through their microflora. An approach that has been used world wide with success. Just like your very own garden they’re mulching to cover crops to insulate the soil from the heat of the sun and retain moisture.
They’re looking to take a natural, yet, pragmatic. Considering technology, balanced with minimal intervention. Perhaps one of the most radical changes at least in terms of effort has been changing the row orientation at some sites in order to reduce direct impact of sun on the vines.
Nebbiolo Rossato – Not Nebbiolo.
My lasting though was that it takes for a vigneron to understand their sites. Sometimes it takes just as long to convince the consumer of what the vigneron is trying to achieve.
A couple of Wines from the Session
Costa Rusi had a real elegance vs the masculine Sori Tilden masculinity. Again highlighting the difference small differences in vineyard location can make to the personality of a wine. Both sites are in the image below. Sori Tildin top right. Costa Rusi lower left.
Chianti is made in a number of townships in Tuscany. In the old days wines were made from field blends, a mix of grapes of different local varieties, planted on the one plot. The dominant variety being Sangiovese with a splash Canaiolo, Colorino and others thrown into the mix. In the last few decades French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz have been introduced and incorporated into many Tuscan wines. The Cabernet Blends like Ornellaia from Antinori have received critical acclaim. A bottle of 1990 Ornellaia was wine of the night amongst some serious Barolos from the likes of Gaja, Aldo Conterno, Masseto & Mascarello.
I still have a soft spot for the Sangiovese focused wines. Over the last couple of years I’ve been so focused on drinking wines from Piedmont, Sicily and around Naples and beyond, that I’ve forgotten just how much fun Chianti can be. Sangiovese typically has big bunches, with large berries and thin skins, that can result in wines of light colour. Don’t let that deceive you. They can have incredible intensity and are well worth getting your laughing gear around. Here’s a few I’ve tried recently that have been fun!
A few rustic Chianti’s on the deck at Boccaccio Cellars today! The same, but, different to the Isole e Olena wines.
All three are blends of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo and Colorino.
2013 Chianti Classico – looking raw, needs time to settle. Some chewing texture demanding food. $35.
2012 Chianti Classico Riserva – a hard edge, structure supported by a splash in some new oak. Solid core of fruit and some funk. Again one to watch. $60.
2010 Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto “Il Poggio” – a density not present in the others. Fruit depth handling the oak beautifully. Refined texture, plenty of yumminess! Can’t wait for the 2012 … Birth year wine for my first! $100.
Isole e Olena
2012 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico – 80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 5% Shiraz. Old school style, respecting the fruit. Savoury yumminess, layering up sour cherries with a refined texture & an edge of acid that would cut the fat of a Bisteccca Fiorentina perfectly. The best standard Isole e Olena I’ve tasted in ages. Threw a few of these bad boys in the cellar. $35. BEST VALUE OF THESE WINES!!
2010 Isole e Olena “Cepparello”– 100% SangioveseBrooding almost inky core of fruit holding its own in competition with an edge of new oak. Great to see it under Screwcap. Needs time. $99.
The Chardonnay line-up at Boccaccio Cellars Vic Wine Show tasting today! I love where Aussie Chardonnay is going. Playing right at the limitless of yumminess!
2014 Seville Estate Chardonnay – Yarra Valley: my personal preference. wicked value at around $30 a tube! Fresh style with juicy linear acid & the core of fruit to support it. Whole bunch pressed and wild fermented in large 300L, 500L and foudre ~2000L oak (not sure of exact size, just a guess). Big oak reduces the effective amount of oak per litre of wine.
2014 Coldstream Hills Estate & Reserve Chardonnay – Yarra Valley: Estate looking better than the reserve on the day. Both lovely core of fruit. Angularity of oak in the reserve. $30 & $50 respectively.
2014 Piano Piano Sophie’s Block Chardonnay – Beechworth: a funk monster, lots of lees, wild ferment & craziness with some delicious fruit to support it. Out there & loving it!
The Shiraz Line Up!
These 3 wines represent much of what I love about wine. All Shiraz, from three regions across Victoria. They are all unique. We get to celebrate the difference & enjoy yummy wine with very individual personalities.
2013 Mitchell Harris Shiraz – Pyrenees: with it’s fresh vibrant fruit, perfume and supple texture at $35.
2013 Tahbilk Shiraz – Goulburn Valley: with it’s rustic structure, savouriness, showing the almost Barolo like tannins of the region at $? pre-release sample hence the non-commercial label.
2013 Buckshot Vineyard Shiraz – Heathcote: with an inky density of fruit, big ballsy, but, still with a refined texture at $35.
3 different wines 3 very good wines, giving us as consumers 3 yummy experiences. Your personal preference deciding which is your drink of choice! The lucky country! All winners at this years Victorian Wine Show.
A Pinot in the Mix
2014 Seville Estate Pinot Noir – Yarra Valley: Solid booze at $30 a bottle. Cooler fresher style with lift from a portion of whole bunches in the ferment. These also added a spice and a chewing mouthfeel. It hard to see wines like this at their best so young. They just need some time to settle. The core of fruit is their, masked by stalks. This should be a delicious wine in a few years when the mouthfeel settles and the flavours start to layer in. So be patient!
Barolo has undergone a revolution of the last few decades. One that we’ve seen occur across many of the great wine regions of the world. Think Burgundy, Tuscany and even Australia. It’s a cycle where tradition gets overtaken by technology and often ends up with those craftsmen who tend vines and make wine finding a balance between the two employing more restraint to let fruit shine and using artefacts like oak only to layer in complexity not dominate a wine.
Clearly there’s personal preference and market driven style decision to consider. Some people like a balls and all red loaded with tree branches. Personally I’ll stick to the former, the zone where wines of intrigue and personality rest!
Anthony D’Anna’s 2004 Barolo Retrospective demonstrated this perfectly with wines from both sides of the coin.
Beyond that it gave us a chance to see how the vintage was holding up. The consensus, blood well, with some ones entering the drinking window and others still a few years away. The more I drink Barolo the more I tend to think waiting 10 years is a minimum and drinking good ones between 15-20 years of age is a good rule of thumb. Scroll on to ready the wine list and reviews.
2004: CREAM RISES TO THE TOP – Notes below by Antonio GalloniThe
2004 Growing Season and Wines
One of the key attributes of 2004 is that both quality and yields are high, two characteristics that don’t always go hand in hand. After the torrid 2003, during which the vines ceased vegetative development in order to conserve energy, the more temperate conditions of 2004 led plants to unleash all of their stored energy, which in turn produced a large crop. Diligent growers reported making several passes in the vineyard in an attempt to restrict yields, but there is only a certain amount man can impose on nature. A few wines have put on additional weight in bottle, but those are largely Barolos that already hinted at considerable volume when they were younger. I was also deeply impressed with a handful of entry-level Barolos from top growers that showed far better than I would have ever expected. So much of the wine world revolves around the importance of vintages, yet I continue to believe consumers are often best served by focusing on producer first.
What Am I Looking For at Ten Years?
All things considered, though, the 2004s have aged spectacularly well. At the ten-year mark, I am looking closely at how wines are developing, specifically if the elements in a wine are aging at the same pace, which I consider absolutely essential. In other words, are the aromatics, fruit and overall structural profile in-line, or not? This is the eighth comprehensive Barolo retrospective I have done. Of the four vintages I have covered at the ten year mark, 2004 clearly surpasses 2000, 2001 and 2003 in both overall quality and consistency. That applies to 1999 as well, although I tasted those wines at ages seven and fourteen. The pure thrill in revisiting these wines is only equaled by the same level of excitement I felt when tasting through the 1989s and 1990s a few years back. In present day terms, 2004 is similar to 2008 in style, as the wines are perfumed and graceful, and also (with a few exceptions) much less imposing in tannin than either 2006 or 2010, the two powerhouse vintages of the decade. I expect the 2004s will age beautifully for years to come. In general, the wines will open up at a younger age than the 2006s and 2010s and are likely to fade a bit earlier too, although that is of course in relative terms, as Barolo is a long-term ager compared to most of the world’s red wines.
2004 Barolo Festa – The Good!
Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!
Cavallotto Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe – Stunning perfume sappy herbs great mid palate. Stunning balance. Needs time to open. Closed nose. Core of fruit on palate. Big front mid palate oak.
Bartolo Mascarello – *Wine of the Night* Made from fruit from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué & Rocche. Beautiful secondary development, oppulence, great tannin balance, even long, incredibly rich, poised violets, yumminess. Stunnning. Second time I’ve had this in the last 12 months. Both bottles were superb!
Capellano – Closed looking an edge reduced and meaty. Good length most developed feeling a little hot. Opened and blossomed in the glass.
Massolino Barolo – VA lift. Lots of Secondaries. Tight angular hot alcohol. Beautiful core of fresh fruit.
Massolino Dieci Anni Vigna Rionda Riserva – Jumping out of the glass, vibrant fruit, secondary development. Beautifully layered. Great length of fruit wee hump of tannin mid palate. Lovely acid. Held back by the winery for 10 years before release.
2004 Barolo Festa – The Ugly! OTT Oakey Ones!
Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!
2004 Baroli Festa! The UGLY! All of these wines tended toward the OTT modernist style with lashings of coarse oak masking what was often an incredible core of delicious fruit. Creating unnecessary angularity and harshness! Great learnings to see them side by side with a number of other wines that got it right.
Poderi Luigi Einaudi Cannubi – Resinous sappy pulling a little short. Again developing well. Sappiness comes through on the palate. Front palate new oak dissruptive.
Elio Grasso Runcot Riserva – Stunning perfume & lift layered with fresh fruit & flowers, unfortunately masked by coarse oak. Searing acidity, edgy mid palate tannin that’s a little too hard. Asking for a little fatty food to enhance it. Heap of oak. Tough wine. Why did they throw this many trees at it! It could have been superb had a little restraint been shown!
Sandrone Le Vigne – Cooked over ripe jammy. Hard oak tannin coarse. Unyielding. Barossa of Barolo. Tough wine.
Azelia San Rocco & Bricco Fiasco – were just that! Oaky sappy hot alcoholic. Unexpressive. OTT WTF? Potential tainted.
Rocche Castamagna, Rocche dell’Annunziata – Boring, cooked out of balance.
Clerico Pajana WTF pushing the boundaries. OTT too much oak.
Filthy Good Vino circulates through my body. 13 years Working as a Winemaker with Gurus around the Wine World, squishing grapes, turning them into liquid gold saw to that. What gets me off are wines that say drink me. Wines with personality. Genuine, individual, authentic wines expressing their origins through time (vintage) and place (vineyard). Harmonious, beautifully textured vino with flavours that entrance and linger long.
Nothing beats sharing a table, plate and glass of Filthy Good Vino with good friends or … scaly mates.