Roberson wine merchant's vertical tasting of 10 Gaja Barbarescos was, as expected, a sell out; the wines ranging in age from 2006 back to a rare 1958 made by Angelo Gaja's father Giovanni.
The Gaja family emigrated to Piedmont from Spain in the 1600s and the first Giovanni Gaja started the winery in 1859. Despite having eight children, only one, Angelo, was deemed suitable to take over the family business – the other seven had excessive drinking and gambling problems.
Angelo’s French wife, Clotilde Rey, encouraged him to buy only the best vineyard sites in Barbaresco and the company’s fame grew steadily since, particularly through their son Giovanni.
Giovanni’s son Angelo (whose son is called Giovanni, following the family tradition) took over in 1961 and has forged the biggest changes in the appellation while taking the Gaja name from a local leader to a global star.
He was the first to reduce yields, personally choose wood for his barriques (not the traditional foudres), make single-vineyard cuvées and plant international varietals. But most famously, he removed the Barbaresco DOCG name from his top bottlings so he could add 5% of Barbera to the blend, thereby declassifying his best wines to mere Langhe Nebbiolo.
The favourite wine of the evening was the 1961, narrowly edging out the 1974, followed by the 1978. Votes were also cast for the 1958, 1988 and 2006.
Gaja, Barbaresco 2006
Bright, intense, lifted, ripe berry nose. Bold vanilla spice with a hint of leather. Deep, rich, cherry liqueur palate with balsamic notes, grippy but soft tannins, high alcohol but well balanced by fruit power. Long finish. 14.5% abv.
Gaja, Barbaresco 2004
Reticent nose with complex wild cherry, noticeable balsamic and gamey elements. Needs time to knit – a bit angular now – but powerful structure, lovely fresh acidity and elegant fruit. Shows real promise. 14% abv
Gaja, Barbaresco 1994
Fresh menthol lift, minerals, cigar smoke leather and balsamic notes on nose and palate along with wild strawberry and sweet cherry fruit. Fine frame: grippy tannins, creamy vanilla oak, bright acidity and lovely development of perfumed fruit. 13% abv
Gaja, Barbaresco 1988
Meaty, savoury leather notes mingle with ripe fresh and dried fruits. Complex and developing palate of undergrowth, tapenade, figs, woodsmoke and lifted, juicy, floral berries. Soft, fine tannins and good length. 13.5% abv
Gaja, Barbaresco 1978
Deep, scented, savoury olive and balsamic nose with an intense, powerful, layered, meaty and peach-stone palate. Lovely, soft, grippy tannins, intense liqueur-like finish and mouthwatering acidity. Seamless and suave. 13.3%
Gaja, Barbaresco 1974
Great elegance and purity. Autumnal, earthy, wet leaf, tobacco, olive and balsamic complexity. Chalky tannins, lively fresh acidity and dense, layered, savoury mulberry fruit. Charming yet rich with superb terroir expression. 13%
Gaja, Barbaresco 1970
Leafy and savoury yet sweet plum nose. Rich, dense fig and fruitcake palate. Chocolatey smooth tannins. Earthy but juicy, still showing good acidity but fruit freshness fading just a touch. Still has a good few years ahead. 13.3%
Gaja, Barbaresco 1967
Huge mineral intensity and great, savoury perfume: leather, olive, meat and Marmite notes with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Sweet ‘n’ sour complexity and a bit sweaty too, with exotic, heady Indian spices. 13.2% abv
Gaja, Barbaresco 1961
Toasty vanilla oak, sweet, ripe balsamic-edged cherry fruit, dusty, tannins and fresh acidity. Very complete and amazingly youthful. Bright, sweet, meaty weight, great balance, complexity and integration. Liqueur-like finish. Still going strong. 13% abv
Gaja, Barbaresco 1958
Intense, caramel-coated cherry fruit, Peking duck and Amontillado Sherry. Lifted Chinese five-spice perfume and concentrated figs and prunes – juicy, ethnic and unique. Finish still has primary fruit freshness along with beef jerky notes. 13% abv