The wine we are going to review today was certainly quite a treat: last month, my good friend Anatoli (who pens the Talk-A-Vino wine blog) and other friends came over for dinner and I decided time was right to open a bottle that had been sitting around for a while: Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967.
This post tells the story of that experience. For a different take on it (plus other wines we had that night), check out Anatoli’s post on his blog.
But let’s get to it.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Gaja’s 1967 Barbaresco was a spectacular treat to taste after 48 years of aging: a true testament to the longevity and age-worthiness of a wonderful, albeit difficult, grape variety such as Nebbiolo. Even after so many years spent in the bottle, the wine was still an outstanding performer and still retained much of its fruity aromas and flavors and enough acidity to keep it alive and kicking. It was wonderfully evolved, with a complex aromatic profile (ripe cherry, dried roses, sweet tobacco, cigar box, cocoa, soil, forest floor and mineral hints), great flavors and sapidity and a long, lingering finish: an amazing experience.
Rating: Outstanding – $$$$$
(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)
About the Grape
Nebbiolo is without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous black-berried grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca – pronounced “key-a-vennasca“).
The name Nebbiolo comes from the Italian word “nebbia” (fog) – some say because of the fog that in late Fall generally enshrines Piemonte’s hills where Nebbiolo is grown. Nowadays, three main different Nebbiolo clones have been identified: (i) Nebbiolo Lampia; (ii) Nebbiolo Michet; and (iii) Nebbiolo Rosé. Interestingly enough, however, DNA profiling has shown that, while Lampia and Michet have identical DNA profiles, Rosé does not share the same profile, which has recently led to consider Nebbiolo Rosé a different grape variety altogether rather than a clone of Nebbiolo.
Nebbiolo is a late-ripening, very finicky variety in terms of the terroir it requires to produce quality wine, which means that Nebbiolo successfully grows only in very few places on the face of the earth – Piemonte and Valtellina sure being two of them, along with certain of California’s AVA’s.
Nebbiolo grapes generally have robust tannins and high acidity, which make it a variety that is very suitable for long-term aging.
In Italy, Nebbiolo’s best expressions occur in the northern regions of Piemonte and Lombardia.
More specifically, in Piemonte these include outstanding varietal wines such as those produced in the well-known Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG appellations (which encompass different territories adjacent to the town of Cuneo) as well as non-varietal wines in the lesser known but also solid appellations Gattinara DOCG, (which requires for its wines 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes), Ghemme DOCG (which requires for its wines 85% or more Nebbiolo grapes) and Boca DOC (which requires for its wines 70% to 90% Nebbiolo grapes), which all encompass different areas adjacent to the town of Novara, where Nebbiolo is locally known as “Spanna“.
In Lombardia, outstanding varietal Nebbiolo wines can be found in the Valtellina Superiore DOCG and Sforzato della Valtellina DOCG appellations in Lombardia’s mountainous Valtellina district (where Nebbiolo is locally known as “Chiavennasca“).
About the Appellation
Piemonte’s Barbaresco appellation was created as a DOC in 1966 (just one year before the vintage of the Gaja bottle that we are reviewing) and was promoted to DOCG status in 1980.
The Barbaresco appellation is reserved to red wines made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the territory adjacent to the towns of Barbaresco, Neive, Treiso and the village of San Rocco Senodelvio, all in the Cuneo district.
The Barbaresco DOCG regulations require that Barbaresco base wines be aged for at least 26 months, at least 9 months of which in wooden barrels, whilst Barbaresco Riserva wines be aged for at least 50 months, at least 9 months of which in wooden barrels.
About the Producer and the Estate
Gaja is one of the heavyweights in the high-end segment of Italian wine, so much so that Angelo Gaja (the man that has been running this powerhouse winery since 1961) has been described by the LA Times as “the undisputed King of Barbaresco“.
He is best known for certain of Gaja’s signature labels, most of which revolve around the Nebbiolo variety, from the 100% Nebbiolo “Barbaresco DOCG” (such as the one that we are reviewing) to certain experimental Nebbiolo-Barbera blends that Angelo Gaja created under the looser rules of the “Langhe Nebbiolo DOC” appelation, which for its wines only requires the use of 85% or more of Nebbiolo grapes (unlike the Barbaresco DOCG appellation which requires 100%). These blends include the single-vineyard “Langhe Nebbiolo Sorì Tildin DOC” (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera), “Langhe Nebbiolo Sorì San Lorenzo DOC” (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera), “Langhe Nebbiolo Costa Russi DOC” (95% Nebbiolo, 5% Barbera), and “Langhe Nebbiolo Sperss DOC” (94% Nebbiolo, 6% Barbera). Retail prices for Gaja reds range from about $150 to $400 and more.
The Gaja lineup also comprises a few white wines made from international varieties, such as coveted “Langhe Chardonnay Gaia & Rey DOC” (100% Chardonnay) and “Langhe Sauvignon Alteni di Brassica DOC” (100% Sauvignon Blanc).
The Gaja estate was founded in 1859 by Angelo Gaja’s great-grandfather Giovanni Gaja and has stayed within the Gaja family ever since. Nowadays, it encompasses 92 HA of vineyards in the areas adjacent to the town of Barbaresco in Piemonte’s Cuneo district. Total annual production is about 350,000 bottles.
Our Detailed Review
Those bottles of the wine that we are going to review, Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967, that are still available in the US retail for about $300.
Gaja’s 1967 Barbaresco was 13.2% ABV and was made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.
As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!
In the glass, the wine was rusty red and viscous.
On the nose, it was intense, complex and fine with aromas of ripe cherry, dried roses, sweet tobacco, cigar box, cocoa, soil, forest floor and mineral hints.
In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was moderately acidic, tannic, tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of spirited tart cherry, rhubarb, and hints of blood orange. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature.