A midlife crisis is a great excuse to organise a birthday tasting and open a couple of wow bottles. The ones you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Also the ones that have a price tag that comes with the label (read overpriced wines), but that you secretly want to try anyway, at least once. All in all, turning 40 has its advantages…
I lined up 12 wines to share with three other winos, ranging from Champagne to Burgundy, Piemonte and Sicily, to end with a deliciously sweet Jurançon.
I will not discuss them one by one, but just pick out a couple that made us silent for a couple of minutes. The first one is the Barbaresco 2013 of Piemonte icon Angelo Gaja. If you know Piemonte, then Angelo Gaja probably does not need introducing. He is not only recognized for making top Barbarescos, but is also known for his controversial decisions such as the introduction of small barrique aging instead of the traditional botti (large casks), planting the international grape varieties cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc in Piemonte, and breaking out of the official Barbaresco DOCG designation. A bit of a phenomenon, really. All the more reason I wanted to try one of his wines!
The Barbaresco is the flagship wine of the Gaja family. Even though Gaja started producing single vineyard Barbarescos in the 60s, it’s the “normal” Barbaresco that was produced already in the 19th century. Nowadays it is made with grapes from 14 different sites and it is aged for 12 months in barriques, and another 12 months in large oak casks. Gaja is sometimes called a modernist and the barrique aging could make you think that his wines will taste like vanilla juice, but still, his wines are always described as elegant and refined. To be tested of course! Also, if you are familiar with nebbiolo, you know that this is a grape variety that can be quite austere, producing wines that need time, sometimes even decades, to reach their peak. Opening a 2013 nebbiolo would in most cases be considered infanticide, a waste of money. Well, one of the reasons Gaja introduced barrique aging was to soften the tannins, and make wines that are more approachable in their youth. 2013 is also a vintage that produced in general lighter wines than 2012. Again, to be tested!
How do you prepare such a bottle? That remains one of the most difficult things in wine, I find. Most of the wines you find in the supermarket are made to drink young, and you can just pop and pour. Once you go to wines of a higher segment, you will often find wines that need time, wines that can be difficult in their youth, aromatically challenging, or austere. It would not be the first time that I hear people who buy an expensive wine to celebrate a special occasion, and end up being really disappointed. Opening a bottle in advance can help to give it oxygen, and let it breathe. But for how long? The day before? A couple of hours in advance? Or pouring it in a carafe to give it a more agressive oxygen treatment? There is not one right answer to this, I’m afraid. A Bordeaux can benefit from opening it the day in advance, but I’ve had bad experiences with doing so with lighter wines, Burgundies for example. With wines made of nebbiolo, my experience is that the tannins can be quite rough, even unpleasant, on the second day. So I decided to open the Barbaresco a couple of hours before tasting it.
When I opened it around noon, I had a little sip to see how it was and check if it didn’t have cork taint. The wine already displayed beautiful aromas of red fruit, but the complexity was not there yet. I didn’t panic. A little bit of air can do wonders. And indeed… The red fruit was accompanied by floral aromas, and a bit of pepper. It was not so much the complexity but the quality of the aromas that made everyone realise this was something special. Delicate, elegant and refined were some of the adjectives that came up when sniffing from our glasses. The first sip pushed us further into exaltation. Ripe fruit but a cool impression at the same time. Everything here was so well dosed. The tannins were noticeable, but ripe and elegant, and provided a superfine structure that carried the wine. The long finish presented us with an extended goodbye. If I had to choose one word to describe this Barbaresco, it would be airiness! The complete opposite of a blockbuster actually. Or how a wine can mesmerize without having luxurious oak, or huge concentration.
Well, what can I say? This is an experience. Angelo Gaja completely lived up to his reputation as “King of Barbaresco”. You pay alot for a bottle, but at least this is the kind of tasting that will linger in your thoughts for long and that will put a big grin on your face when you think back of it. When you buy such a bottle, you don’t buy 75cl of wine. You buy an experience!
After reading this declaration of love for Gaja’s Barbaresco, you probably think this wine was the undisputed WOTN. For those of you who don’t master wine slang, that’s Wine Of The Night. Well, actually, there was a strong contender… Which one could that be, you think?