Gaia Gaja, fifth generation manager of Italian winery Gaja, found it difficult to explain her wines to Chinese tasters. "When I say 'violet', they say 'we don't have it here'," she says. "When I say 'truffle', they ask 'what's that?'"
But soon one Chinese woman remarked that the wines from Babaresco, Piemonte, of northwest Italy, reminded her of jasmine tea. Gaia says she would like to see the Chinese describe wines more in terms of something they are familiar with.
The beautiful, warm Italian woman came to Beijing earlier this month to promote some very characteristic Gaja wines, to mark the 150th anniversary of the winery.
Babaresco is famous for producing white truffle and hazelnut. Traditionally, Barolo has been seen as the best wine producing area in Piemonte. But Gaja has done much to bring fame to Babaresco wines from the Nebbiolo grape, producing strong, but elegant tasting wines with great aging potential.
In 1961, when Angelo Gaja took over the business, the family decided to make wines only with grapes produced in their own vineyards. In 1979, Gaja planted Chardonnay for the first time in Barbaresco, which traditionally uses the Nebbiolo grape.
In 1969, the winery replanted its grapes vertically, instead of horizontally, to give the grape sunlight from both sides. In 1970, Gaja started to use corks that were longer than the industry standard. Besides, the family makes wine only with good vintages, according to Gaia Gaja.
First-time drinkers could be surprised by the amount of tannin and acidity, characteristic in Gaja wines. That was true at the Beijing tasting, even though the wines had been uncorked two hours earlier. It took another hour for the wines to become softened, and taste smooth.
In fact, the tannin feeling had melted in seconds, to be replaced by a lasting smoothness. Nebbiolo wines have a super long aging potential, of up to 40 to 50 years. These pair well with food.
The Gaia & Rey Chardonnay DOC 2006 had an incredible citrus fruit aroma and concentrated fruit flavor, which only grew stronger with time. It is the only white wine to have been aged in an oak barrel in Italy. One wine I liked was Barbaresco DOCG 1997, a full-bodied wine with velvety tannins, which brings a tightening sensation to the surface of the tongue, and the acidity in it brings water to the mouth in 3 seconds. Another personal favorite is Gaja Sori San Lorenzo DOC 2004, a juicy, slightly sweet wine with powerful tannins, and a chocolaty smell.
The tasting ended with Darmagi 2001 made from Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1978. Darmagi in Italian means "what a pity". It was what Gaia Gaja's grandfather said when he saw her father removing Nebbiolo to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978. Later, Gaia's father Angelo Gaja named this excellent wine Darmagi.
With its strong characteristics, Gaja is a wine one will either love or hate. The wines are now available in some five-star hotels, and high-end restaurants. They are priced at more than 1,000 yuan a bottle. To buy, visit www.asc-wines.com, or call ASC Fine Wines shopping hotline at 400-883-2299.