Gaja Masterclass

My friend recently sent me an email about a Gaja Masterclass that was coming up.  No time to check the calendar - a few clicks later I was booked in.

Gaia Gaja hosted this masterclass.  She is the eldest daughter of Angelo Gaja, the man who brought this winery to prominence over the last couple of decades or so, and in doing so elevated the whole of the Italian wine community with it.  Angelo Gaja has arguably done more than any other person to establish Italy as more than just a country producing vast quantities of wine, but a country producing world class wine.  Angelo Gaja is a captivating speaker; a man with a true gift for public speaking and connecting with an audience.  I’ve been lucky to meet him a couple of times and he is charismatic and engaging.  As it turns out, his daughter shares those gifts.  During this masterclass, she held the room and made each person attending feel like the presentation was directed specifically at them.  Her engagement and ability to make momentary but piercing eye contact with each attendee was quite remarkable.

We started off with the Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2012, which was a nicely balanced wine, with flavours of stone-fruits and spices and a harmonious mouthfeel.  There is 5% sauvignon blanc, which was not really discernible, but no doubt contributed some lift to the aromatics.

Next we tasted the trio of Brunellos from the Pieve di Santa Restituta estate; all three being the 2008 vintage.  The estate wine was very nice, but the two vineyard-named wines were a clear step up in complexity and character.  The Rennina had a lovely musky perfume and a fine, elegant palate, while the Sugarille was more rich and densely fruited, with a touch more tannin grip.  Both were lovely, and excellent examples of Brunello, but I generally preferred the pretty and feminine Rennina; others preferred the more impressively structured Sugarille.

Having tasted the Brunellos from Tuscany, our focus shifted north to Piemonte, starting with the Sito Moresco 2010 and Barbaresco 2011.  Sito Moresco is a blend of nebbiolo (35%) with merlot (35%) and cabernet (30%).  It is a pleasant and drinkable wine, but I tend to think the cabernet dominates too much and the more elegant nebbiolo characters are lost.  Still, it’s not a very expensive wine and offers good value.  Comparatively, the Barbaresco (100% nebbiolo) was very bright and pretty, with rose and cherry flavours.  It is a soft and open wine, already drinking well for a young nebbiolo.  This is not surprising, given that 2011 was a warm (and thus somewhat difficult) vintage, but perhaps this wine lacks the real depth and persistence that Gaja Barbaresco usually shows.  I would drink this wine relatively young.

Next was the real highlight of the masterclass, which was a set of the six single vineyard wines from the 2000 vintage.  It’s always a treat to drink any one of the Gaja single vineyard wines, but to taste all six at once was an amazing opportunity.

We started with the three single vineyard wines from Barbaresco: Costa Russi, Sori Tildin, and Sori San Lorenzo (strictly, these wines can’t be labelled as Barbaresco, because they are not 100% nebbiolo; Gaja chooses to blend in ~5% barbera).  These wines were wonderful.  I can’t express adequately in words the complexity these wines showed, and it was a real treat to try them together and see how they differed.  And they were quite different in their flavours as well as structurally.

The Costa Russi was the lightest of the three, but I think also the prettiest.  I found this wine quite remarkable in the way it filled every corner of the mouth (and nose) with a persistent potpourri-like perfume that seemed completely weightless.  The flavours persisted long after the liquid was swallowed.  The Sori Tildin was a step up in palate weight and was very classically nebbiolo, with herbs and roses and a strong orange-peel character.  It had a richer and more persistent fruit flavour.  The Sori San Lorenzo was a step up in weight and fruit character again, being more dark-fruited and brooding.  It showed flavours of truffle, small-goods, and cherry-liqueur.  I can certainly see why this is often the most lauded of the three, as it is supremely impressive.  As I kept sipping at these three great wines, I was more and more enamoured of the Costa Russi and it was my favourite of the three, but they were all superb wines.

The next set comprised the two wines from Barolo – Sperss and Conteisa – and the estate cabernet sauvignon called Damargi (as with the wines above, the Barolo wines cannot be labelled Barolo due to the small addition of some barbera).  These wines suffered a little coming after the single vineyard Barbaresco wines, but the Sperss and Conteisa were both enjoyable in their own right.  The Sperss was the most closed of the six wines from 2000, showing a good spine of tannin and fruit and probably holds the most potential for extended cellaring.  The Conteisa was much more open and approachable, and an enjoyable wine for drinking now.  The Damargi was somewhat challenging, showing the sorts of characters that cabernet can show in more marginal (ie cool) climates.  It was a bit too herbal and green-vegetable like for my tastes.

We finished the tasting with a trio of wines from Gaja’s most recent project, the Tuscan estate of Ca’ Marcanda.  The wines here are focussed on the Bordeaux varieties of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, while a few other grapes are used for blending such as syrah and sangiovese.  The wines we tasted were the Promis 2011, Magari 2011, and the flagship wine Ca’ Marcanda 2010.  These were pleasant wines, well made and generous in flavour, but it’s hard to get excited about them following what we had just drunk.

Having reached the end of our masterclass, I was left with a few lasting impressions, which are really just confirmations of impressions I already held.  The Gaja family are master winemakers.  The Gaja family are master marketers.  The three single vineyard Barbaresco wines – Costa Russi, Sori Tildin, and Sori San Lorenzo – are among the best wines being made anywhere in the world and are right towards the top of the tree if I’m ever pressed on choosing my favourite wines.

This entry was posted in Barbaresco, Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tuscany. Bookmark the permalink.

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