Angelo Gaja almost single-handedly brought Italian wine into the modern world. When he took over his family estate in 1961, Italy wasn’t even on the fine wine radar screen. The wine universe was dominated by France, and particularly by Bordeaux. At the time, the Gaja winery was a third-generation property dating from 1859, with vineyard holdings in choice areas of Barbaresco. From the beginning, Gaja’s position was that there was a place for Italy not just at the bottom of the scale, but also at the top.
Angelo is now in his late seventies and has passed control of the property to the fourth generation. His daughter Rossana stays at home and tends to the vineyards, while her sister Gaia travels the world to promote the family’s wine. The estate is more diversified now than ever before. In 1994 they expanded into Tuscany, buying Pieve Santa Resituta in Montalcino, where they produce Brunello. This was followed several years later by the acquisition of land in the Bolgheri region of Maremma, a site best suited to blends from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In addition, the Gaja vineyards in Serralunga also yield grapes for three versions of Barolo.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Gaia Gaja and sample some of her recent releases. We started with the rarest of rare birds, a Chardonnay from Piemonte. The Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2015 ($105) has a compact, pleasant nose fragrant with aromas of citrus. In the mouth, there is crisp acidity up front, followed by a burst of lemon and green apple flavors. It has a firm palate imprint and a very long finish, with interesting floral notes—a very classy wine.
The flagship bottling, Barbaresco DOCG 2011 ($225), displays stiff tannins that wrap around bright flavors of red cherries and currants. The finish reveals a firm mineral backbone. This is a poised and electric wine, but still very young. Ca’Marcanda Magari 2013, a relative bargain ($65), is an unspecified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s compact and restrained on entry, but sparkling acidity rises in the mid palate to free a profusion of juicy dark berry flavors. The herbal component picks up again on the finish.
The wine of the day was the Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino Rennina 2011 ($150). This one has it all: sexy, ripe and captivating on the nose, richly concentrated in the mouth and very fleshy in the mid palate, with supple tannins, beautifully defined fruit and a strong mineral character. The finish is long, succulent and memorable as the wine itself.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.