Rambling in the Piedmont: Vajra, Gaja, and the market for manure

Back in the Piedmont for the second Collisioni Festival, Stephen Spurrier and I were whisked straight from Turin airport to the Vajra winery, for a welcoming reception with several of our colleagues and, in the best Italian tradition, several grandchildren running around the tasting room, extremely cute and happy to be indulged. We started with a new addition to the line, a dry, full-bodied, and minerally Riesling—a lovely and moderately serious wine that made its own esthetic statement, not resembling either Germanic nor Australian styles, but a firm, straightforward expression of Riesling character—and things got even better after that. (I don’t know of another winery that so consistently makes an array of wines as well as Vajra, from the relatively rare Freisa and somewhat unfashionable Dolcetto all the way up to splendid Barolo. One reason, surely: at harvest time, all the grapes are carefully sorted by hand before crushing, with busy crews swarming over tables laden with grapes, carefully culling. The winemaking is undoubtedly as meticulous.)
         As a sidebar to the events, panel discussions, seminars, and visits to winemakers, the organizers put together a fairly formal tasting of a range of Barolos from the 2010 vintage, which were just being released. It wasn’t definitive, but several subsequent tastings in London confirmed our first impression—2010 is a splendid vintage. (Details updated above.)
       Over lunch at Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja made several interesting points. Global warming was a benefit, “a big factor,” resulting in more good vintages; higher alcohol levels could be a worry, but the wines are more supple. And so-called “natural” wines aren’t a fad, he said; many Piedmontese, including him, are working hard to make cleaner, less manipulated wines—not labeling it as such, but simply getting on with getting along with nature. He showed me a picture of worms in soil—that’s what he wants, he said, dirt that’s alive, that can truly nurture grapevines. “I give you some investment advice,” he said with a laugh. “Cow shit! If you can get any, there’s a good market for it in the Piedmont!”

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