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Gaja’s Super Barbaresco

By Juha Lihtonen

It is September 2 and the sun has been punching holes in the mass of clouds spread over the village of Barbaresco all morning. By mid-day, the cloud cover has given up. The village and the surrounding vineyards are once again bathed in warm sunshine. Even though the driest and hottest harvest season in more than 70 years is behind us, the foliage of the vineyards surrounding the village still shines green and abundant, protecting the Nebbiolo bunches ripening on the vines from direct sunlight. I'm about to meet Giovanni Gaja soon, but I can't wait to stop my car on the side of the road to taste some Nebbiolos from the vine. They are small, thick-skinned, ripe and juicy with gentle tannins. Although the skins are soft and tasty, the color of the seeds reveals that the physiological ripeness of the grapes has not yet been reached. "The harvest of Nebbiolo grapes will start in about four weeks if the weather stays like this", Giovanni Gaja states a moment later in the Gaja castle. In front of us is a delicious flight of Gaja wines – Alteni di Brassica 2020 (sauvignon blanc), Gaia & Rey 2020 (chardonnay), Barbaresco 2019, Barolo Conteisa 2018 and Barolo Sperss 2018.

 

The wines show great integrity and charming finesse. They have everything in them but nothing too much. Barbaresco and Barolo, in particular, surprise with their suppleness and approachability with such a young age. "Nebbiolo is a resilient variety and I believe it is one of the varieties that adapts well to the climate change at least for now and even benefits from it. Thanks to its thick skin, the grape can withstand heat better. At the same time, its tannin structure softens and the naturally high acidity lowers, resulting in wines that no longer require years of ageing to soften like before," sums up Giovanni. In the discussion about wines, he brings up his family's pride and crown jewel, Barbaresco, and the 2019 vintage. "Our Barbaresco is traditionally made from Nebbiolo grapes from fourteen different plots, but in 2019 and 2018 we boosted it with the grapes from Sorí Tildin and Costa Russi vineyards. Neither year did we produce these single vineyard Barbaresco wines. Some might wonder why, especially on 2019 which was a stable, warm and exceptional vintage. The reason for the decision yielded from the previous vintage 2018, which was a really difficult season – cold and rainy. The hail storms that raged in Barbaresco in July damaged numerous vineyards and especially the Sorí San Lorenzo vineyard. To ensure sufficient Barbaresco production, we used all grapes from Sorí Tildin and Costa Russi for the Barbaresco wine. Sorí San Lorenzo's vineyard had suffered such enormous damage that we sold off the entire crop. While the 2019 harvest was recognised as an exceptional quality, we found that the grapes in Sorí San Lorenzo vineyard ripened unevenly and were unbalanced. We therefore ended up selling the 2019 Sorí San Lorenzo crop as well and enriched the Barbaresco wine with the Sorí Tildin and Costa Russi fruit."

 

So, when it comes to 2019 Gaja Barbaresco, it can be called as a Super Barbaresco. The 2018 harvest instead, proved to be exceptionally challenging, but still the most 2018 Barolos and Barbarescos I have tasted charm with delicate elegance. The tannins are silky and refined and the wines deliciously enjoyable even now at a young age. Many have stated that the 2018 wines are short-lived, referring to the cold and rainy year, but I disagree. The wines of the esteemed producers such as Gaja will evolve in the bottle and offer pleasures in the 2030s. The elegantly composed Conteisa and Sperss offer a promise of that, as do numerous other 2018 wines I've tasted. On the other hand,... why wait for years, not to say decades, when the wines offer enjoyable taste experiences already today! 

 

Alteni di Brassica 2020 (JL 93)

Fresh and elegantly aromatic. Lovely passionfruit and tomato leaf nose with fine touch of oak. The palate is dry and crisp with broad mouthfilling texture. The fruit is vibrant and harmoniously lingering finish leaves tranquil and elegant aftertaste with some spices. Serves well already but benefits for 2-3 years’ ageing. (JL 93p, Sept 2, 2022)

 Gaia & Rey 2020 (JL 94)

Rich and expressive nose with ripe white fruit aromas and charming tastiness. The dry palate is vivid yet brought and round. Touch of burnt butter flavour is rinsed with citrus notes. Vibrant toasty notes in the lingering finish. Decant for an hour and serve at 10-12°C with panfried turbot, or grilled Skrei with chanterelles. Drinks well already but will benefit for 3-4 years’ ageing. (JL 94p, Sept 2, 2022)

 Barbaresco 2019 (JL 96+)

Refined and complex nose charms with spectrum of aromas – perfumey, violets, spices, ripe cherries and cranberries and smoky tones. Full-bodied palate is rich and vibrant with smooth texture and gentle chalky tannin structure. A long and balanced finish with firm and good tension.  Drinks well already but will reveal its true colours in 8-10 years time. (JL 96+p, Sept 2, 2022)

 Barolo Conteisa 2018 (JL 97)

Intense, rich, toasty nose with spicy, floral notes. Full-bodied palate with vibrant ripe red fruit character – cherries and cranberries. Vivid acidity and very polished yet firm tannins are delicately integrated with the fruit. Super smooth, silky and refine finish is lingering and harmonious. True to classic La Morra style. Superb already but will evolve well for next 8-10 years. (JL 97p, Sept 2, 2022)

Barolo Sperss 2018 (JL 95+)

The nose express well the Serralunga d’Alba terroir. Rich and complex with dark cacao and earthy notes  Full-bodied palate shows great concentration formed by the acidity, minerality, and intense fruit character. The tannins are firm but supple. Long and intense finish. Superb Barolo that is already impressive and enjoyable but will definitely bloom after 5-7 years cellaring.  (JL 95+p, Sept 2, 2022)

 

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