Tag Archives: Barbaresco

Wine Review: A Special Tasting – Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967

Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967The 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  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“).

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

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.

A special wine tasting: Marchese Villadoria, Barbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC… and some cool facts about Nebbiolo

StefanoA few days ago we had a special night, with a few wine-aficionado friends coming over to our house for dinner, including fellow wine blogger Anatoli who authors the excellent blog Talk-A-Vino. Needless to say, several great bottles of wine were opened, some coming from our cellar and some that were graciously brought by our guests.

Today I would like to focus on a bottle that we opened that night and really was quite special: a 1969 Barbaresco! That’s right, as in 44 years old! More specifically, it was a bottle of Marchese VilladoriaBarbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC ($22 for current vintages).

The bottle had been given to me a while ago by my father, who had forgotten all about it and recently “re-discovered” it in his own cellar. Clearly, with all those years of aging, much could have gone wrong, like the cork could have gone bad (which would mean an oxidized wine) or simply it could have been corked. But still… worth a shot, right?

The Bottom Line

Overall, I very much enjoyed tasting such an evolved Barbaresco: it has been the longest-aged wine I have ever had and it has been a pleasure to the eye, the nose and the mouth. Regarding the quality of the wine itself, I cannot vouch for the contemporary vintages of Villadoria’s Barbaresco, as this was the first bottle I had from such producer, who is a little bit out of the limelight. But there is no doubt that that 1969 Barbaresco held his own: sure, the bouquet could ideally have been a little more complex, but hey – today you can buy a bottle for $22 (granted, I am not sure how much it went for back then): what more do you want for that kind of money? 😉

Rating: Very Good, considering the excellent QPR Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

If you are interested, let’s now briefly talk about Barbaresco and the grape Barbaresco is made from, which is Nebbiolo.

About the Appellation

Barbaresco is a wine that is made in the northern Italian region of Piemonte in an appellation that earned DOC status in 1966 and was then “upgraded” to the top DOCG status in 1980. The appellation encompasses a small area in the vicinities of the town of Cuneo comprising three smaller towns (Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso) and a village named San Rocco Senodelvio. The regulations applicable to the  appellation require that Barbaresco be exclusively made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in that area and that the wine:

(i) be barrel-aged for a minimum of 26 months (at least 9 of which in wood barrels) plus an additional 10 months in bottle for “plain” Barbaresco wines; or

(ii) be barrel-aged for a minimum of 50 months (at least 9 of which in wood barrels) plus an additional 10 months in bottle for Barbaresco Riserva wines.

About the Grape

A few notions about Nebbiolo, without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous 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).

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 Rose’. Interestingly enough, however, DNA profiling has shown that, while Lampia and Michet have identical DNA profiles, Rose’ does not share the same profile, which has recently led to consider Nebbiolo Rose’ 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 entire 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 are in varietal wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco in Piemonte or Valtellina Superiore and Sforzato della Valtellina in Lombardia’s Valtellina district (all of them being DOCG appellations).

(Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Our Detailed Review

Now on to the wine we had last week: it was a Marchese Villadoria, Barbaresco Riserva Speciale 1969 DOC (13.5% ABV). Current vintages of this wine retail in the US for about $22.

If you have read the preceding notions about the Barbaresco appellation, it will not come as a surprise to you that our bottle was designated “DOC” instead of the current DOCG designation which, back in 1969, did not exist yet.

Two peculiar features of our bottle (that I had never observed in any other bottle before) were that it came completely wrapped in coarse cloth to which one end of a string had been affixed using sealing wax while the other end had been stapled to the cork! The two snapshots to the right should give you an idea of what I am talking about. While I can only offer conjectures as to why the producer went through the hassle of doing all that, I would imagine that the idea behind the cloth wrap was to protect the wine from light exposure (and therefore harmful UV rays) while the string connecting the cork to the cloth was maybe an anti-tampering device of sort?

I opened the bottle and decanted it about two and a half hours before the time we would likely taste it, following a proper handling and decanting procedure codified by the Italian Sommelier Association (I may write a post about it at some point). Fortunately, it looked like the cork had held up well throughout all those years, so that was a promising sign. Thanks to proper cellaring and handling, the wine poured clear into the decanter up to almost the end of the bottle, when unsurprisingly some sediment showed up.

Fast forward two and a half hours (during which we managed to keep ourselves busy with appetizers, a pasta course and plenty of other wine) and the time had come to pour the Barbaresco into our glasses and taste it!

As usual, 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.

In the glass, the wine was orange red in color, as expected after all those years of aging, and thick.

On the nose, it was intense, quite complex and fine, with aromas of spirited cherries, licorice, rose, vanilla and ethereal notes. The bouquet was not very broad, but it was elegant.

On the palate, our wine was dry, warm and smooth; quite fresh, quite tannic and quite tasty. If you are familiar with the ISA wine tasting protocol you might notice that our wine was a little shifted toward the “softness” side and therefore you might wonder whether it can still be classified as balanced. Well, considering that it is only natural that, after 44 years of aging, tannins and acidity recede a bit and that for a structured red wine being a little slanted toward the softness side is certainly not a “sin”, by all means I will go ahead and call it balanced. In terms of structure, our wine was between medium and full-bodied and its mouth-flavors were intense and fine, showing a pretty good correspondence with the wine bouquet: I picked up strawberries, cherries, vanilla and licorice. Finally, the finish of the wine was quite long and its evolutionary state was mature.