Tasted: Gaja 64, 78, 89, 97, 00, 04

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Above: An enviable flight, if I do say so myself. The 64 was simply stunning and the 89 gorgeous.

As a good friend and admired colleague of mine says, “whether you like the wines or not, tasting Gaja is always an interesting experience.”

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend an impressive tasting with Gaia Gaja, who was also in Chicago (it was a trade tasting organized by her importer and I managed to snag a spot, the fly on the wall, so to speak).

I’ve actually tasted quite a bit of Gaja recently: the Barbera 7 and I visited Gaja while were in Piedmont in March (Fredric recently published his account of our visit over at Palate Press.)

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Above: It was remarkable to see the evolution of the Gaja brand, the labels, and the transformation of bottle shape. From a classic Albese interpretation of the Burgundian bottle shape to a Burgundian bottle with a Bordeaux neck to accommodate a longer cork. Note also the slight changes in color and composition of the labels.

I’m writing in a hurry today because traveling and will write more on what I learned about Gaja the brand and my visit with Gaia the lady in future. And I think that some of you will be surprised by what I learned. I know I was surprised.

In the meantime, here are some quick tasting and winemaking notes.

Barbaresco 1964

“Longer fermentation and maceration” during this period in the winery’s history. Two to three weeks maceration and some slight oxidation because of winemaking practices at the time that gave the wine an orange hint early on. The winery had not implemented its current vineyard management (green harvest and “short pruning”) and the grapes were picked all at once, resulting in some of the fruit not being entirely ripe.

Drinking old Nebbiolo is not for everyone and so some might have disagreed with my take on the wine but I was completely blown away by how good and how alive this wine (older than me) was. Gorgeous brick and orange color, unbelievably seductive tar and earth on the nose, solid acidity and gentle, noble red fruit in the mouth. The mouthfeel of the wine was truly divine.

1978 Barbaresco

The last year with the short cork and the first year that Gaja began to age in barrique The winery had also begun to employ a green harvest at this point, although not “systematically” at this early stage. I’d actually tasted this wine before, a few years ago in NYC: I think this bottle might have been “off,” because it didn’t show as well as I had expected. It had a strong, menthol and Eucalyptus nose and it took a while for the fruit to emerge after I revisited it during the hour or so we spent tasted (the wines had been opened a few hours before the tasting but not decanted). It was almost Baroloesque in its power and showed some spicy notes in the mouth.

Barbaresco 1989

This wine was pure beauty. Great (in my opinion one of the top 3 of my lifetime) vintage, classic and balanced, with “four seasons,” so to speak. Incredible bottle of wine, showing beautifully, and with many, many more years ahead of it. This was one of Italy’s great producers at its best. An incredible elegant lightness and beauty and simultaneous power and tannic structure — the seemingly contradictory essence of Barbaresco, an experience that always brings equine metaphors to mind. Gaia told a great story about this wine. At the end of a school year spent abroad to learn English and studying acting (!) among other interests in San Francisco, she tasted this wine in 2004 at a family friend’s dinner party. “I could smell the perfume of my house in this wine,” she said and so she decided, after all, to return home and rejoin her family’s business. A truly life-changing wine, in her case.

Barbaresco 1997

I wasn’t expecting to like this vintage but was really impressed by its drinkability and its balance. “The heat of the vintage shows” but the wine is drinking fantastically well at this moment. It has begun to attain that orange hue of old Nebbiolo and I won’t conceal that I didn’t spit this wine. I thought it showed beautifully. Of all the wines we tasted, this would have been the one I would have most liked to have enjoyed at dinner (while the 89 and 64, my favorites, would have been special occasion wines, meditation wines). Drink it now if you got it.

Barbaresco 2000

This wine is going through a very closed phase of its evolution, very tannic and very tight as we say in our parlance. Like 1997, this was a very warm vintage and I was actually surprised by how reluctant the wine was to reveal its fruit. I really wish I would have had more time with this wine but the time constraints of this tasting (a trade tasting) didn’t allow me to revisit it.

Barbaresco 2004

I’ve tasted this wine on numerous occasions and you’d be surprised by the name of at least one wine writer who revealed very publicly that he enjoyed this wine in a blind tasting. The wine is still very young and very tannic but you can easily imagine the balance that it is going to reveal with aging. As we look back at 2004 with a few years distance, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the vintage is very similar to 1989, very balanced, very classic, and with extreme promise. If I could afford to buy Gaja, this is the wine I’d put in my cellar for long-term aging. A good bet if you’re the betting type.

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Above: Gaia and I had a charbroiled cheddardog at Wieners Circle.

After I told Gaia and another a colleague about my adventure at the Wiener Circle (where the proprietors famously berate their customers), our colleague mentioned that Robert Parker had listed it one year as one of his “top ten meals” of the year, she expressed her desire to taste a Chicago red hot.

Impossible wine pairing? Gaja and Chicago red hot? I don’t think I’m gonna touch that one!

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Thanks again, Gaia, for inviting me to such an incredible tasting! And thanks for the cheddardog!

Joe Dressner and I have made our peace

I don’t know why but eating dinner at the Wieners Circle in Chicago made me feel at piece with my sometimes antagonist Joe Dressner.

I don’t know if he’s ever been there (he’s from Long Island, from what I understand) but I’m sure he would love it.

It’s one of those sine qua non Chicago places. (There are men who know what sine qua non means and others who have to look it up.)

Seriously, the truly lovey ladies at Wieners Circle are SUPER NICE ladies and we had so much fun talking last night after they served me up a killer charbroiled cheddardog with all the Chicago fixins after me and Pat grabbed a beer by Wrigley Field. Highly recommended for peacemaking. Man, Obama, you listening? These ladies could make peace in the Middle East, they are SO FINE!