Last week, I braved an ice-capped Portland armed with Barbaresco. I just wanted to show two vintages. But to be safe, I requested two samples in case one ended up corked. However, our warehouse accidentally picked 2006, 2010, and 2013. Each run about $230 a bottle. I decanted them that morning, put on my boots, and slid slowly to my first appointment.
Angelo Gaja changed the Piedmont forever. In the 1960s and 70s he became a control freak: switching to only his own grapes, small French oak barrels, Burgundy bottles, and long corks for ageing. His daughter Gaia Gaja (I know, he’s a touch proud) has pushed them to biodynamic farming, even breeding special worms to process their fertilizer.
Today, 14 vineyards (in green below) comprise Gaja’s Barbaresco.
Gaja’s 2006 glowed warm, full, and ready. The APPEARANCE looked dusty, dark ruby at the core but bricked beautifully on its fringes. Bold AROMAS of crushed raspberries, potpourri, flint, coffee, and black beans carried the glass. The PALATE felt dry and impeccably balanced with plump tannins, medium acidity, toasty alcohol, a full body, and fine-grained leather texture. For FLAVORS ripe red berries ripple through it, caught by baking spices of nutmeg and burnt vanilla, coffee, and licorice that held a long length.
2006 grew across the day, only fading into earth, meat, and tannins towards the end of the third day. Even then, another account still bought a six pack. Gaja’s 2006 easily has another decade in it. It just graduated high school, knows itself, and is full of complex, critical thought. It is outstanding (5 of 5).
Now, Gaja’s 2010: a much-hyped vintage. At our first tasting, AROMAS smelled only moderately of blackberry fruit leather, balsamic, soil, and fresh violets. The PALATE felt dry with chunky tannins, ringing acidity, a compact, full body, and an unexpectedly smooth yet rich texture. FLAVORS tasted of black and red berries, tobacco, cedar, black tap coffee, mineral, and anise.
By day two, 2010’s aromas and flavors became opulent and seductive but still seemed shrouded compared to the open book 2006. It is outstanding (5 of 5) but drinks like a middle-schooler: awkward, gangly, energetic and clever but not ready. Wait until 2019 through 2030.
Well hello there. 2013’s APPEARANCE looked a clear, bright ruby red with a maroon core. Unexpectedly, AROMAS pounced out of the glass. I have never smelled a Nebbiolo so young yet expressive. Imagine just-crunched anise, red maraschino cherries, orange peel, fresh peppermint, and white wood. The PALATE felt dry and taut, with lifting acidity, linear steel rod tannins, medium alcohol and a medium body. FLAVORS did not disappoint either: bright red fruits, mineral, and spice that lasted a medium length.
2013 shows a shift for GAJA. One buyer wondered if daughter Gaia’s biodynamic efforts helped create this more expressive, brighter red. It is outstanding even now (5 of 5): a bouncing baby, curious, wild, and delightful. A vigorous decant or another decade will let it strut its stuff (just don’t vigorously decant your baby).
Nebbiolo’s tannins will cut you though. After one tasting, my palate was dust. So I invited my buyer to lunch at Olympia Provisions. We ordered the Italian charcuterie platter. Each Gaja came to life. The 2006 enveloped salty olives, Taleggio, and mortadella. The 2010 became bearable, punching the hard red sausage smartly. The 2013 became even brighter, tarter, and fruitier with the Taleggio.
That icy, 20 degree day became delightful. Yes, it took twice as long to drive from account to account. Yes, I panicked when slipping through a stop sign. Yes, most accounts acted grumpy about slow business. But each stop meant I could watch these wines evolve.