March 13, 2009

Notes from the Field

At McDuff's suggestion, I left the safe, fortress-eque confines of the Lab and ventured out into the world to meet Guiseppe Vajra and taste the wines of his family's domain.

I need to get out more often.

Guiseppe was charming, engaging and extremely knowledgeable about his family's vineyards and viticulture. The wines he poured -- from an unexpected Piemontese Riesling to the single-vineyard Bricco delle Viole Barolo -- were exceptional.

The Vajras farm organically and pick by hand. The wines are beautifully expressive of their terroir. And they have some sensational parcels, including vineyards in the Serralunga across the autostrada from Bruno Giacosa's famed Le Rocche del Falletto.

The 2007 Langhe Bianco is made from Riesling vines that Guiseppe's father planted in the early 80s. When I said I hadn't realized that Riesling was allowed by the Langhe DOC, Guiseppe told me, "They allow it, but it's not recommended." Should be. This is sensational wine, a very serious dry white, and a definitive triumph of vineyard over varietal. The finish is so purely mineral that you can differentiate between limestone and granite.

The domain's tête de Cuvée is a single vinyard Barolo, the Bricco delle Viole planted just after the Second World War. Guiseppe poured the current release, the 2004 vintage. The wine is densely structured, with layers of fennel spice, red fruit, dark berries and a clear vineyard signature. It is very young, but unlike other "traditional" Barolos I know, this is extremely approachable even now.

The whole catalog is worth seeking out, especially the rustic Langhe Rosso Kye made from Friesa, a traditional Piedmont grape perhaps related to Nebbiolo. And if you get a chance to taste with Guiseppe, you don't want to miss that opportunity.

Elvino sourced Piemontese cheeses and fresh bread to pair with the wines. And Bart Miali's shop and inventory is looking better every time I stop in.

I will definitely try to make a habit of getting out of the Lab.


Scott said...

Who imports Vajra? I've never seen their wines here in Texas and would like to track them down.

Anonymous said...

I met with Giuseppe the other day in San Francisco, and the wines are lovely. That Freisa was particularly interesting in that it's a 2005, and the Vajras believe in holding that variety back a couple of years before releasing it.

Did you try the '07 Dolcetto? Outstanding.

Scott: in California, the wines are imported by Rinasciamento Wine Co... You could try contacting Justin Gallen there to see what he knows about Texas.

- wolfgang

Laboratory Chief said...

What Wolfgang said.

I thought the Freisa was a stunner. Bold fruit, big acid but gritty and gripping in the mouth. I loved the Dolcetto. Barbera wasn't bad either.


David McDuff said...

Glad you enjoyed the assignment.

Vajra works with small, regional importers. Petit Pois in NJ/DE/PA, Martin Scott in NY, Dolce e Danni in CO.... It's entirely possible that they're not represented at all in the TX market.

As for the Freisa, I'm curious as to where Giuseppe and Justin placed it in the tasting order. When I visited Vajra in situ a few years back, Giuseppe's dad showed it as the last red, after the Barolos. I don't have my notes with me and don't remember the vintage but I do clearly remember it being more tannic than the Barolos -- and really cool wine. To my chagrin, the importer in my neck of the woods doesn't bring in Kye.

David McDuff said...

PS: I love Vajra's Dolcetto. It's too bad they weren't pouring the Dolcetto "Coste e Fossati." If you find it, buy it and sock it away for a few years. It will reward the effort.

JollyVino13 said...

Hi guys,

Here are the answers to a few of your questions:

Scott: G.D. Vajra has no one currently importing/distributing the wines in Texas and I don't plan on expanding past California for the foreseeable future.

David: We placed the Freisa after the Barbera and before the two nebbiolo based wines, the Langhe Rosso (from young vines) and the Barolo. After tasting the wines with numerous buyers over the course of 5 days working San Francisco and Los Angeles with Giuseppe (what a trooper btw, he is the real deal and will represent G.D. Vajra in the best way possible in the coming decades)I found that even though the Kye` is slightly more tannic than the Barolo, it is a different kind of tannin (more integrated into the wine at this point in its evolution)and would have been lost after the Barolo Bricco delle Viole.

David: I haven't brought in the Dolcetto "Coste e Fossati" as of yet as this market is having trouble with wines over $25 and a $40 Dolcetto may be a little more than it can take right now. It took awhile for the "crisi" to hit us here in California, but it has hit with a vengeance. I won't tell you which wines we are having trouble selling but let me tell you, anything that was ever allocated by my various importers is now available to everyone and in some cases discounted. Scary.

Laboratory Chief said...

I definitely need to get out more often. Look at the good work done in my absence!

Thank you, Justin, for the comprehensive information. It was a great tasting. Really enjoyed meeting Guiseppe and yourself.