The great wines of Gaja
Author: Tatiana Humphreys
I first encountered the Gaja wines in our London Shop’s Fine Wine Room. The sleek, minimalist black label with white writing stood out amongst the more ornate bottles from Bordeaux and Tuscany. Gaja is known for its Piedmont wines, but there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to this producer – as I discovered on a trip to all three of their estates in Montalcino, Bolgheri and Barbaresco. We were fortunate enough to spend time with Gaia, Giovanni and Angelo Gaja, who educated and entertained us along the way.
First, we visited Pieve Santa Restituta, an estate that produces wines in Brunello di Montalcino. The property sits atop the rolling hills of Tuscany, and they even have their own church. Montalcino was a logical step for Gaja, as – like Barbaresco – it is a region steeped in tradition with the emphasis on indigenous grape varieties (Nebbiolo in Barbaresco and Sangiovese in Montalcino). Gaia Gaja and her brother Giovanni made a dynamic pair as they took us round the vineyards. They understand the importance of site for the quality of wine. The winery is modern and built underground, showing the investment the family has made here. They make three wines in Montalcino: a straight Brunello di Montalcino, which offers excellent value, and two single-vineyard wines, Rennina and Sugarille.
Ca’Marcanda, the estate in Bolgheri, has followed suit as the winery is also subterranean, motivated by their desire to integrate the winery with its surroundings. This estate marked a change for the Gaja family, and it caused some controversy. Here was a family renowned for planting indigenous grapes in historic regions, buying land in an area associated with the maverick Super Tuscans – producers who pioneered the use of Bordeaux varieties. This reflects the ambition of the family, who are always pushing boundaries.
Tasting through the range, we were pleased to see the estate planting more Cabernet Franc, a grape that really suits Bolgheri. Promis, which is Merlot-dominated, and Magari, a true Bordeaux blend were silky and generous, but it is the flagship Ca’Marcanda that stole the show. The 2016 that we tasted was truly remarkable. Multi-layered, with bright red fruit notes, this is a must for Sassicaia followers.
After spending time in Tuscany, we headed up to Piedmont, along bumpy roads and through too many tunnels. The shift in landscape, climate and atmosphere was palpable and it really felt like we’d arrived at the homeland of Gaja. Who is more associated with the rise of Barbaresco than Angelo Gaja? He was a revolutionary, who was not afraid to challenge convention with the use of barriques, and even planted Chardonnay for the renowned Gaia & Rey.
While in Barbaresco, not only did we eat the most delicious tajarin al ragù at Antica Torre, we tasted an array of red wines from the Gaja stable including Dagromis, Barbaresco and the Barolos, Conteisa and Sperss. The single-vineyard Barbareschi – Costa Russi, Sori Tildin and Sori San Lorenzo – should be a fixture in any cellar, the stylistic differences evidence to the power of terroir.
Above everything, Gaja is about family and creating a legacy for generations to come. They are passionate about the wines they produce, and every estate has its own story, waiting to be explored. There’s no better way to do so than opening a bottle.