Tag Archives: Vajra

Just Went Vajral

“The wine speaks very well, not me,” is the disarming claim from Milena Vaira. She’s wrong on one front – she’s an engaging hostess with very good English – but otherwise spot on: these are eloquent wines that you could listen to all day.
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In any case, Milena’s relieved from duty by her 28-year-old winemaker son Giuseppe, who’s clearly more at ease entertaining the masses. He’s just got back from showing his wines in Singapore, where Barolo-on-the-rocks in 40-degree heat was the order of the day. “It’s important to get out of your comfort zone,” he says.
I certainly get the impression throughout the tasting that this is a thoroughly adaptable clan, the kind that’ll run with a printing error that sticks a rogue ‘j’ in the family name. Giuseppe’s father Aldo set upon a life in wine despite vehement entreaties not to from those around him. His first vintage was 1972, uniformly written off as a stinker, maybe the toughest of the century. But he stuck at it.
This same man later took a shine to the art of Father Costantino Ruggeri. He wanted some stained-glass windows for the winery so the cellar hands would never lose sight of beauty as they went about their work. The talented monk declined Aldo’s request but received a case of wine as thanks for his consideration. Anyway, you guessed it: he changed his mind.
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And so to the wines. The winery is situated in Vergne, a couple of kilometres from Barolo village. The family has 60 hectares of vines, taking in Barolo, Novello and Serralunga d’Alba. Riesling is the token white here (floral and pure it is, too), while Pinot Noir (“a good teacher,” as Milena puts it) and Albarossa are the other outliers. Then you have the red quartet: Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Freisa, all showing finesse and sensitivity and – it must be said – thoroughly enjoyable drinking. Dolcetto and Barbera are given both a traditional and alternative rendition, while Nebbiolo comes in five guises. There’s a Langhe Nebbiolo and four Barolos: Albe (a blend of three vineyards); Bricco delle Viole (see below); and two wildly different single-vineyard wines bottled under the Luigi Baudana label, from the Baudana and Cerretta vineyards in Serralunga. I found the 2009 Baudana particularly exciting; a little unruly and way too young to drink but bursting with energy and personality.

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto 2011, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Italy

Named for the Barolo vineyards of Coste di Vergne and Fossati which provide the fruit, this is the big brother to the more conventional, light and fresh Dolcetto d’Alba. This one is aged for eight to 12 months in large oak casks.
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It’s medium ruby in colour, with a surprisingly subdued nose (for Dolcetto) of violets, red cherry and clove. It’s medium bodied, with a soft, slinky, almost creamy mouthfeel and lots of sweet, juicy damson, raspberry and cherry fruit plus a hint of menthol. The chalky tannins have a bit of grip, there’s enough acidity to give it drive and it finishes with a pleasing cherrystone tang.

RRP $52 from Enoteca Sileno in Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 17/11/13

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco del Viole 2009, Barolo DOCG

You can see the sloping vineyard from the tasting room. Bricco del Viole takes its name from the violets exposed when the blanket of snow is peeled back each spring. A pretty image befitting this lovely Barolo, made from vines grown 400 metres up and aged 45 to 48 years old. It’s intensely perfumed, very reminiscent of top-notch Pinot Noir on the nose, with roses and violets joined by plums, earth and some underlying smokiness. It tastes like it smells, but the real winner here is the softness of the fruit on the palate – gentle but with real strength and length – allied to tannins that are almost velvety, finishing with some gentle spice.

RRP $175 from Enoteca Sileno or €55 direct from the cellar* – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 17/11/13

In Praise Of Freisa

This might shock and amaze ya
But you’re gonna dig this Freisa

At the mention of this little-known Piedmontese grape, my teetotal father – as white and English as they come – pulled out a terrible impression of Muhammad Ali’s rhyming-couplet threat to “destroy Joe Frazier”. Perhaps the fact that he’d nosed more Nebbiolo than the wine critic at the Barolo Chronicle had something to do with it. Whatever, the boxing legend and this underdog variety will be forever linked in my memory.
It’s fair to say Freisa is not the greatest. In fact, it was almost out for the count – once Piedmont’s second most planted variety, it’s little more than a palooka these days. Giuseppe Vaira, of Barolo family winery G.D. Vajra, says its decline has come about for a number of reasons. First, a good chunk of it is used for Vermouth, thanks to its vibrant acidity. Then there are the inconsistent yields, and the fact that it’s way down the pecking order when it comes to selecting sites. In addition, this highly tannic variety gives lots of harsh, malic acid. “If it’s not ripe, the acid/tannin combination kills the wine,” says Vaira.
It also has identity issues. It’s commonly made “vivace”, as a slightly sweet, forthy wine for quaffing at picnics, but is a very different beast as a quite masculine, dry red. And let’s not forget the divisive bittersweet flavour profile. The Oxford Companion to Wine quotes Hugh Johnson as finding it “immensely appetising” and Robert Parker shuddering at a “totally repugnant wine”.
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So what does it have going for it? Well, one can never overlook breeding, and Freisa is a close relative of Nebbiolo, Italy’s king of reds. (Apparently this DNA-profiling revelation was “mindblowing” for local growers. ‘How can this crappy grape be related to noble Nebbiolo?’ is the refrain Vaira recalls.) Then there’s its comely purple colour and fragrance of wild red fruits and violets.
For many, it’s a bit of a legacy grape. “We make Freisa because we’ve always made Freisa,” they quip at Bartolo Mascarello. Here it’s a dry version, but there’s no firm line taken on the spritz. If it happens, it happens, which means customers have to take the rough with the smooth – or the flat with the fizz. It’s not the kind of variation normally tolerated by wine folk but like everything at Bartolo Mascarello, the wine is good and runs out in no time.
Conversely, Brezza’s Langhe Freisa 2012 (14% alcohol) is a resolutely still version, with a perfumed nose of raspberry and red cherry, zingy acid and lots of fine tannins that carry the fruit nicely. It definitely calls out for food, though – pork belly or salami would go down a treat.
At Vajra they’ve gone to even greater lengths to get Freisa fighting fit. Giuseppe Vaira says the trick is to pick it late, at the same time or later than Nebbiolo. He gives it a long maceration – 20 to 25 days – before 12 to 18 months’ ageing in large, seasoned oak casks. The Langhe Freisa Kyè 2010 (14.5% alcohol; the name’s a phonetic transcription of the Italian ‘Chi é?’, or ‘Who is it?’) is a knockout. A nose of earth, cherry, plum, white pepper and spice, its rich, fine tannins and vibrant acidity give a firm frame for the juicy cherries, plums, redcurrants and herbs.
Not necessarily the greatest, but it’s well worth going a few rounds with this one.