August 22, 2017

Europe '17 - Incredible Visit to G.D. Vajra in Barolo

From Provence we took a couple of days to relax on the sea at Nice, exploring the old town and finding some incredible beaches to read and then float in the salty Mediterranean.

We didn't plan too much of the trip in advance, but our son had originally demanded that we make it to Nice. So that was our southern destination. The question - how to get back to Paris.

We could of course largely retrace our route to this point, or we could do what my dad would always do - make a loop. And it just so happened a loop here would mean swinging into Italy and then through part of Switzerland - not to mention the Jura mountains and Burgundy - to get us back to the airport home.

Of course we chose Italy, and for all the fun we had in France along with a few nights in London, I think the one night in Italy was the best of the trip. Again, we must return.

If you wanted to design a perfect vines meet medieval castle fantasyland, you'd probably end up with Barolo. I had heard the Piedmont of Italy was perhaps the most beautiful wine country anyway but I was simply blown away but what I experience. The views, the beautiful contours of the land, practically every hill topped with an incredible town or village, it was almost too much. The emotion of the terroir indeed.

Stained glass the cellar at Vajra

We drove a few hours from Nice along the Ligurian coast, then turning inland to quite mountainous terrain before the land opened to spotty hills and a carpet of vines. Before I knew it, we hit the town of Barolo just in time for our 4pm appointment at G.D. Vajra.

We were met by Eleonora, who toured us through the production area and then down to the cellar, talking in great detail about the winemaking process and the intricacies of Barolo terroirs. 

From the stairs down to the underground cask cellar, with garden!

Then we walked across the parking lot to the office and tasting area, where we had a formal sit down tasting of several wines. Finally I had a moment to take notes as we went, so a bit more detail here.

Vajra produces several wines in addition to the Nebbiolo and other traditional area grapes. They were the first to plant Riesling in the Barolo region, and even make Pinot Nero. I'm a traditionalist but not dogmatic. Usually these other grape varieties wouldn't excite me much here, and perhaps they'd indicate a highly modern approach in the winery. Not here at Vajra, where large format botti are the norm and even the more international grapes show true delicacy and terroir.

The tasting set up at Vajra, simple, elegant

The 2016 Riesling was newly bottled and fresh, bright with a little petrol. This is lovely. Then the 2014 Pinot Nero, which Giuseppe Vajra - who popped by from time to time - described with good reason that this tastes like Pinot Noir from Barolo, with the power structure of this terroir. I'm happy to have a bottle of this at home to try at some point to check in again on this anomaly.

Now to more traditional things. The 2014 Barbera Superiore is all power and black cherries right now, rich and needing time to show more finesse. But what a wine.

An experimental, old style Nebbiolo from Vajra

Then an experimental cuvee, the 2015 JC Clare Langhe Nebbiolo, all natural with no added SO2 following the ancient vinification methods of this region. Light color, earthy with subtle fruit, a little wild but good, I also brought a bottle back courtesy of Giuseppe to try later this summer.

Next, the Langhe Nebbiolo normale, also pale colored with grippy, steely freshness, this is young vines and all stainless steel aged.

The first Barolo was the Albe cuvee, meaning sunrises, a blend of three vineyard exposures very close to the winery, vinified separately and then blended to reflect the three exposures. Licorice, roasted chestnuts, lovely density but still lighter Barolo, this is readily available in Portland and a steal in legitimate, afforadable Barolo.

The line up of reds, truly inspiring wines
Next the Barolo Bricco Della Viole, or violets, from a top selection of this sprawling vineyard just east of the winery. So elegant, all red fruits, worsted tannins, we learned this western swath of Barolo gives more elegant wines.

In contrast, the Barolo Luigi Baudana from the more powerful east side of the appellation, vineyards from Castiglioni, more iron, meat, dark fruit and firm tannin, this is for the cellar but what a wine. This label I believe refers to a historical property the Vajra family purchased along the way. They keep tradition alive by using the historical name on the label.

Finally we enjoyed the 2016 Moscato d'Asti, all 4% alcohol with lovely sweetness but not cloying, the one wine I didn't spit. Ok, the Luigi Baudana as well.

I liked seeing my guy Vincent on the wall in the office

We left with great ideas for dinner that night, I left thinking of how nicely they received us, and on short notice, and how I might incorporate some of the little things they did to make our visit special with winery visitors I host here in Oregon.

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