By Stephen Tanzer
Angelo Gaja is well aware of the conflicting currents that are making production of rich, high-alcohol wines increasingly tricky. “Global warming started to show its effect in 1996,” he told me. “We had very big wines in earlier vintages like 1971, 1961 and 1947, but now those kinds of vintages are much more common. The question we haven’t been able to answer yet is: will more intensity of heat and light have an influence on the longevity of our wines? And of course, the more consumers insist on lower alcohol levels in their wines, the more the wines will have to be manipulated. Let us do our jobs as growers and winemakers.” In recent years, like a number of his colleagues in the Langhe hills, Gaja has been green harvesting in a series of passes through the vines so as not to overdo this step in warm years when the fruit would be very likely to reach sufficient ripeness without cutting crop levels in mid-summer. Gaja is slow to pass judgment on new vintages and he’s still assessing 2009, which he describes as “not a big vintage like 2007. Maybe it’s more like 2008, which is a very interesting year, elegant and balanced but with less body than 2007.” Two thousand eleven, he added, has been difficult for the dolcetto and barbera as there was a lot of drying of the grapes in the late-summer heat.
2008 Gaja Chardonnay Gaia & Rey Langhe
Bright full yellow. Deeper, soil-inflected nose. Sweet on entry, then spicy, honeyed and quite dry in the middle, with more penetration and less baby fat than the 2009 offering. Strong suggestion of earthy terroir. A more nutty style than the 2009 but gained in freshness and grip with aeration.
2008 Gaja Sauvignon Blanc Alteni di Brassica
Bright yellow. Subdued, pure aromas of grapefruit pith, tarragon and white pepper. At once denser and more energetic than the 2009, conveying an impression of firmer acidity. Finishes long and brisk, with a positive bitterness.
2009 Gaja Barbaresco
Good full bright red. Soil-driven aromas of sour cherry, pomegranate, minerals and leather, lifted by treble notes of flowers and white fruits. Dense and nicely filled in, with a restrained sweetness and enticing minty lift contributing to the impression of vibrancy. Finishes quite long, with substantial tongue-dusting tannins. This is excellent.
2009 Gaja Nebbiolo Costa Russi Langhe
Good medium red. Very ripe, almost liqueur-like aromas of plum and nuts; lower-pitched than the 2009 Barbaresco classico. Fat, sweet and filled in but less expressive today than the Barbaresco. Plenty of flesh and backbone. Here the tannins arrive later and build. Seems the ripest of these 2009s.
2009 Gaja Nebbiolo Sori Tildin Langhe
Good full medium red. Inviting aromas of plum, redcurrant, dark raspberry, smoked meat and minerals, with lively floral lift. Then juicy and tight on entry, conveying a stronger impression of acidity but less early sweetness than the Costa Russi. There’s plenty of alcohol here but also terrific depth of dark fruit, especially on the long back end. Serious tannins arrive late and give this suave wine a strong backbone for aging.
2009 Gaja Nebbiolo Sori San Lorenzo Langhe
Good full red. Pungent aromas of maraschino cherry, minerals, smoke and camphor; the most Barolo-like of Gaja’s 2009s from the Barbaresco zone. The thickest and most concentrated too, sweet and mouthfilling but very backward. The combination of sheer stuffing and medicinal reserve along with fine-grained, dusty tannins and outstanding persistence suggests that this plump but youthful wine will age slowly and well.
2008 Gaja Barbaresco
Medium red with a hint of amber at the edge. Soil-driven aromas of red fruits, mocha, smoke, underbrush and dried rose. Sweet, plush, seamless and elegant; distinctly suaver than the 2009, with the dried flower element lifting the mid-palate. Lovely nuanced wine, finishing long and serious, with broad, ripe, building tannins and very good grip.
2008 Gaja Nebbiolo Costa Russi Langhe
Good medium red. Reticent nose hints at strawberry, raspberry, mocha and smoke. Fresh and nicely delineated, with silky-sweet flavors of dark raspberry and spices. Intensely flavored wine with a captivating sugar/acid balance. Finishes with firm, building tannins and lovely juicy cut. I find this more vibrant and classic than the 2009.
2008 Gaja Nebbiolo Sori Tildin Langhe
Good medium red. Lower-toned on the nose than the Costa Russi, offering musky aromas of smoke, truffle and minerals. Sweet and firm on the palate, showing very good supporting acidity but less flavor definition than the Costa Russi. Here the substantial dusty tannins are not yet as integrated with the wine’s fruit. This will need at least five or six years of cellaring.
2008 Gaja Nebbiolo Sori San Lorenzo Langhe
Good medium red. Perfumed nose combines minerals, rose petal, menthol, spices and herbs. The tightest of these 2008s, but already displaying outstanding energy and precision to its intense dark fruit and floral flavors. The firm, late-arriving tannins are perfectly supported by strong dark fruits on the back end. This wonderfully juicy wine boasts a near-perfect balance for extended aging. A knockout in the making.
2008 Gaja Nebbiolo Conteisa Langhe
Good medium red. Aromatic nose of cherry liqueur, raspberry, mocha and camphor lifted by fresh red raspberry and mint and complicated by roasted herbs and a whiff of peach. Lush and seamless on entry, then big and spicy in the middle, with a restrained sweetness to its dark fruit flavors. The huge but harmonious tannins are slow to make their presence felt, eventually coating the teeth and melting into the wine’s fruit.
2008 Gaja Nebbiolo Sperss Langhe
Good full, deep red. Compelling perfume of musky strawberry, wild game, smoky minerality and underbrush. Broad and sweet, but with outstanding definition and a magically light touch to its fruit, mineral and spice flavors. Wonderfully brisk, complete wine with an explosive back end featuring great tannic structure and outstanding aromatic lift. I wouldn’t call this powerful wine fat or silky, but it’s utterly seamless and incredibly suave. Should be a cellar classic.
2008 Gaja Cabernet Sauvignon Darmagi Langhe
Medium red-ruby. Medicinal black cherry, cassis, wild herbs and menthol on the nose, with some sweet oak showing. Thick and lush in the mouth but very backward and built for the long haul. Much darker in its fruit character than Gaja’s wines from the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. Finishes juicy, oaky and long, with a fine dusting of tannins.
2007 Gaja Nebbiolo Conteisa Langhe
Full medium red. Rather unforthcoming but mellow aromas of plum, mocha and licorice. Silky on entry, then more tightly wound toward the back in spite of its plush, layered texture. Lovely raspberry, spice and underbrush flavors blast through the building, granular tannins on the long aftertaste.
2007 Gaja Nebbiolo Sperss Langhe
Good medium-deep red. Classic Barolo aromas of strawberry, underbrush, tar and brown spices. Incredibly rich, plush and smooth, showcasing the sweetness of the year in spades. This remarkably round, thick wine envelops the entire palate but has enough acidity to avoid coming off as heavy. The great, slowly building finish features utterly harmonious ripe tannins and terrific breadth and grip.
2007 Gaja Cabernet Sauvignon Darmagi Langhe
Full red-ruby. Cassis, licorice and nutty oak on the nose. Wonderfully sweet, seamless cabernet with terrific depth of plum and musky underbrush flavor. Silkier and rounder than the 2008, reflecting the very different styles of these two vintages. Finishes very long, pliant and sweet, with suave tannins.