G.D. Vajra is one of Piedmont’s best kept secrets. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the winery in Piedmont and was thrilled that Giuseppe Vajra decided to visit Seattle to showcase their latest wine releases. Before we get into the wines he featured, here is a little background information on the winery.
G.D. Vajra is located in Piedmont in Northwest Italy. The winery sits at the highest elevation in the commune of Barolo, in a village called Vergne. Aldo and Milena Vajra own vineyards in Bricco Dell Viole, Fossati, La Volta, and Coste di Vergne. Since some of the vineyards are located at 1300 feet elevation this means the grapes ripen later than vineyards that surround them. The other result of high elevation vineyards is small yields, small berry size and thick skinned berries. Several of the vineyards were planted back in the 1947 by Aldo’s father. Milena and Aldo started the winery in 1972 and they released their first vintage bottling in 1978. Today the couple have 3 children who are active in the day to day running of the winery.
G.D. Vajra has an interesting family history. Listening to Giuseppe describe how things at the winery came to be is like walking back through time in a region once governed by wars and where Facism dominated. Giuseppe’s grandfather stood up against Fascism during World War II. He was summoned to go fight the war and this is why Giuseppe states there is a “gap in the family winemaking”.
Following the end of World War II saw the strongest economic period in the nearby city of Torino. Investments in companies such as Fiat meant other businesses flocked to Piedmont in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Giuseppe’s parents built the winery in 1972. Giuseppe is the oldest of their 3 children and he states he intended to be a heart surgeon. He had worked in the vineyards since he was 15 but wanted to choose a different career for himself. He passed all the exams which were required to go onto training as a heart surgeon. One evening he remembers sitting with his father in their house and his father pointed to a painting. Aldo said to Giuseppe “What would life be if you didn’t have beauty? You don’t need it to live but life is not the same without it. Wine is like this.” According to Giuseppe this moment so influenced him that he stopped his pursuit of becoming a heart surgeon and went back to working in the family wine business. Giuseppe states that “many wines have a personality but to bring them to beauty is something I will spend the rest of my life learning.” G.D. Vajra is now in it’s fourth generation of winemaking. They produce a wide range of wine styles from semi-sweet sparkling to single vineyard Barolo.
Below are the 11 wines tasted. The tasting started with a dry sparkling Rose, followed by a white wine, and then progressed from light to full bodied red wines.
N.S. Della Neve Rose Spumante
According to Giuseppe this is “one of two Indiana Jones wines tonight“. It’s composed of 50% Nebbiolo and 50% Pinot Nero. The Nebbiolo has a strong personality so the Pinot Noir is there to mellow it out. The wine was made metodo classico and aged 4 years on the lees. It has almost no sugar added in the dosage so it’s like a “nature” if one uses the champagne scale for sweetness. Aromas of wild strawberry and orange rind were noted. A very refreshing sparkling rosato wine with a chalky finish.
2014 Luigi Baudana Bianco “Dragon”
The Vajra family purchased the 2.6 hectare Baudana estate in Serralunga to compliment their wines from La Morra. Giuseppe describes the acquisition as such: “Imagine this estate as the cutest girl on the street and she gets a lot of suitors but only chooses one“. He feels very fortunate that their family was the one chosen and they have vowed to continue to carry on the Baudana Family legacy. This wine is somewhat of a field blend. It’s composed of old vines Chardonnay 50%, Sauvignon Blanc 30%, Riesling 15%, and Nascetta 5%. It was fermented in stainless steel. It’s an extremely aromatic wine with floral notes, citrus, stone fruit, and fresh cut grass. On the palate it’s crisp with great minerality, a slight creamy texture and long finish. This wine is a great alternative to Chardonnay and it’s so refreshing!
2014 G.D. Vajra J.C. Claret
This is the second of the “Indiana Jones wines” tonight. Giuseppe states this is the first time they have crafted this wine. It came about after Giuseppe was reading books on how they used to make Nebbiolo in the old days. 20% of wine was whole cluster fermentation. Fermentation was completed in a Moscato tank. The resultant sparkling wine is light and fruity with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. It’s reminds me of Lambrusco and it’s best served slightly chilled. I’d definitely sit out on the porch and sip this great fizz while enjoying a plate of cheese and charcuterie!
2014 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba
Giuseppe likes to make reference to the story of “The Ugly Duckling” when he talks about Dolcetto. What he means is that you can’t always base your opinions on your first impression. Prior to the 1970’s Dolcetto was rated higher than Barbera. The onset of mechanization in Piedmont pushed Dolcetto to the background as the best vineyards were saved for Nebbiolo plantings. G.D. Vajra vineyards for Dolcetto are all south facing. The wine has a bright purple hue. There are lovely aromas and flavors of violets, strawberry, raspberry and plum skin. The low acidity and higher tannins make this wine incredibly food friendly and easy to drink. It’s so fruity and elegant that I could drink this every day! Dolcetto makes up one third of Vajra’s production.
2013 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba
Vajra’s Barbera d’Alba is a blend from 6 vineyards. Giuseppe’s description of the label on the bottle is as follows: “6 leaves on the label are for the 6 vineyards, 3 bunches are equivalent to the three soil types, and the 2 birds kissing represent the 2 souls of Barbera (calcareous soil vs clay)“. This wine sees 15-20 days maceration on the skins before being aged in very old, large, Slavonian Oak barrels. The result is a wine that is floral with sweet dark fruit aromas. It’s fruity and smooth on the palate with a juicy finish. The recommended drinking window is 3-5 years from release.
2013 G.D. Vajra Barbera Superiore
This is an example of a “Cru Barbera”. Fruit for this wine is sourced from 2 vineyards. 90% comes from Bricco delle Viole where the vine age is 67 years, and 10% comes from Bric Bertone where the vine age is 15 years. The old vines yield small berries with thick skins that give the wines a crunchy texture. This is a Barbera that is made like a Barolo as it sees 35-40 days maceration time. The nose is intense with heady floral notes, black cherry, cloves, licorice, mocha and tobacco. The somewhat grippy tannins and youthful acidity means that this is a wine you can age for 10 years. Keeping it that long may be a problem though as it’s an exquisite example of Barbera at it’s best.
2012 G.D. Vajra Langhe Fresia “Kye”
Fresia is a grape variety I adore. It’s like the last of the Mohicans being noble and wild, yet fighting for survival. In the past Fresia was used to make red Vermouth (the world’s 3 major houses for Vermouth are all located within a 20 minute drive from the winery). G.D. Vajra only has 3 small vineyards planted to Fresia. The average vine age is 35 years old. Vajra chose the name Kye (pronounced key-ay) for their Fresia bottling. Kye means “who is” and this is a reflection on the disappearance of Fresia as many people don’t know this grape today. G.D. Vajra makes 500 cases of this wine and only 50 cases make it to the USA so my advice to you is that if you can find it, buy it! Aromas of violet, strawberry, raspberry with a slight spice note. On the palate it’s savory herbs, rosemary, slight menthol, and fruit. An elegant, beautifully balanced wine with supple, silky tannins that will leave you wanting more.
2014 G.D. Vajra Nebbiolo Langhe
This wine was bottled in November 2015. Violets, dried roses, and red berries are present on the nose. It’s medium bodied red wine with medium acidity and a fresh finish. It actually drinks quite well at this time.
2011 G.D. Vajra Barolo d’Alba
This wine is made from grapes sourced from Barolo from 3 different vineyards which have 3 different exposures. Giuseppe describes this as “an iron fist with a velvet glove” as the goal with this wine is finesse. 3,000 cases were produced. Red berries, cherry, ainse, savory herbs, clove, and a slight sprinkling of pepper make for a lovely nose on this wine. Soft tannins and a bright finish make this wine easy to drink.
2011 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole
“Imagine you are at a big party. It’s a wild party full of beautiful college people. You see all types of crazy people, drunken people, and gross people but you have no interest in talking to them. And then you see this beautiful woman and you want to talk to her because of her elegance and grace. This person is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with“. This is how Giuseppe describes the Barolo Bricco Delle Viole.
Barolo Bricco Delle Viole is never about big power but it is always about the finesse of the wine. The vineyard was planted in 1949. The grapes are fermented on the skins 30-40 days. The wine is aged 42 months in old 25-50L Slavonian Oak barrels. Dried roses, cherry, dark fruits and spice aromas jump from the glass. This full bodied red wine has a strikingly delicate texture with silky tannins and a lengthy finish. It’s gorgeous!
2014 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti
This Moscato comes from a vineyard where the vines are 35 years old. It’s always the last fruit that G.D. Vajra picks. This apparently came about because of an accident initially but the family decided to continue the practice and thus this is a Late Harvest Moscato. It is the last block of Moscato to be picked in the region. Grapes for this particular vintage were picked on September 25th. This Moscato tastes like biting into a sweet white peach and there is a slight salinity present. It’s very refreshing with great acidity. An alcohol level of 5.5% means one could easily finish off a bottle.
Giuseppe Varja did an excellent job of presenting the family’s wines. He is a very eloquent speaker. His colorful and romantic descriptions of the wines take you on a magical journey. It was a pleasure to taste these wines with Giuseppe.