We made no secret of our rapture at gaining a chance to work with the Vaira family as importer of G.D. Vajra and Luigi Baudana into Australia.
Since our first shipment a year ago, both Giuseppe Vaira and winemaker Eugene Qiao have made it over to these shores, revelling in the warmth of the welcome they received from the Australian trade and wine lovers more broadly. This is a family that communicates its joy and pride in Piedmont – the wines and culture of this northeast Italian idyll – wholeheartedly. In the wines you feel the vivacity, charm and class no matter whether you’re knocking back Barbera, contemplating cru Barolo or succumbing to the sweet allure of the Moscato d’Asti.
The headlines here will be dominated by an exceptional suite of 2015 Barolo from both G.D. Vajra and Luigi Baudana. The former ranges from the Albe – “terrific entry-level Barolo, not to mention one of the finest value in Piedmont” according to Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media – via unmissable Ravera to a “wonderful” Bricco delle Viole. The latter goes from a “compelling, delicious Barolo” from the commune of Serralunga, to a Cerretta that had Gary Walsh of The Wine Front in raptures. “Hello! Here’s a wine that moves me,” he swooned.
But as mentioned earlier, perhaps the finest virtue of this estate is the way it scatters its delights for all to enjoy. The runaway success of the bargain Langhe Rosso and Claré J.C. attests to this point, as does the fact that the Dolcetto, Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo are resplendent examples of these characterful native grapes, offering great value to boot.
Once again, then, it’s not so much something for everyone as everything for everyone – the only issue being that demand for the top Barolo wines far outstrip supply. Please note then, that offers of these are limited and subject to confirmation.
Bearing that in mind, we invite you once again to dive into the myriad charms of this jewel in the Barolo crown.
THE WINES – G.D. VAJRA
2017 G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso RRP $35 screwcap
Our Langhe Rosso is a hug from Piedmont. It’s an invitation to explore its different varieties and to get to know its personality. From young vineyards, it is a fruity, delicately complex wine – an ideal companion at the table. It’s predominately Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, with smaller quantities of Freisa, Albarossa, Pinot Noir. Each vineyard is harvested when it reaches perfect ripeness. The varieties are vinified one by one, to express their personality and uniqueness. The wine is aged for 18-24 months partially in steel and then in first-, second- and third-use pièces. – Giuseppe Vaira
2017 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba RRP $39
Our Dolcetto d’Alba is a homage to this wonderful, often overlooked heritage variety. Historically, Dolcetto was cultivated in prime land, just above Nebbiolo vineyards. At Vajra, we remain loyal to this approach, farming our vineyards in places of true vocation. This is a pure, vibrant and fruity expression of the grape.
Dolcetto is picked in the first half of September. As vineyards are located at higher elevation, protected from thermal inversion that affects northern slopes and the valley floors, they allow for longer hang time and full phenolic ripening. A gentle vinification usually lasts up to 15 days, with a couple of plunges per day. Wine is racked at least twice prior to malolactic conversion, which takes place in stainless-steel vats. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba sees a minimum aging period in stainless-steel only, and is bottled in spring following the harvest. – Giuseppe Vaira
Dolcetto is sometimes considered the ugly duckling of the Langhe. But in a hot vintage such as this, the grape flaunts its inner beauty and charm. The 2017 Dolcetto d’Alba delivers earthy and raw aromas of black fruit, plum and black olive. There are dusty sensations of crushed mineral or granite on the close. The finish offers vibrancy, depth and freshness. 90 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
2017 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba RRP $49
G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba comes from the wonderful range of Vajra estate vineyards, belonging to three different geological ages: Tortonian, Serravallian and Messinian. It’s fermented for an average of 20 days on skins and matured for no less than 12 months, respecting the rhythm of nature. This is a fine blend, a charming wine at the crossroads of finesse and texture.
Fruit for our Barbera d’Alba is harvested usually in the second half of September. Each vineyard is picked at its optimal ripeness, so as to capture the richest treasure of aromatics and phenolics. Quite often it takes more than 10 days to complete the entire harvest. Each parcel is then individually fermented for 15 to 20 days on average, at temperatures below 30°C. While Barbera is often treated with shorter and vigorous macerations, we love to work with gentle punch downs and pumpovers for longer periods, in order to extract only the finest tannins from its skins. Malolactic conversion in stainless steel, followed by racking. Aged for a minimum of 12 months, mostly in stainless steel vats but with a minimal component (5 to 10% at most) aged in French oak. – Giuseppe Vaira
2017 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo Claré J.C. RRP $46
This unique wine was first produced in 2014. The name Claré J.C. pays homage to Thomas Jefferson – who visited Piemonte in 1787 and described Nebbiolo as “dry as a claret, sweet and lingering as Madeira, brisk as Champagne” – and to Darrell Corti of Corti Bros in California, an amazing person and pioneer of Piemonte wines who helped us recreate the style of these forgotten, slightly sweet and sparkling Nebbiolos.
Produced with grapes from younger vines on the estate’s vineyards, Claré J.C. is 100% Nebbiolo. In 2017, approximately a quarter of the fruit was vinified with whole clusters. The winemaking protocol follows the 1606 writings of Gian Battista Croce. 25% of the fruit was gently placed as whole clusters at the bottom of the vat, and topped up with crushed juice. After five days, the wine was racked into a closed tank to finish fermentation off the skins, for a more gentle extraction. Malolactic conversion took place in stainless steel. Claré J.C. was bottled in February 2018, after a very short period in vat, so as to retain maximum freshness in the bottle. – Giuseppe Vaira
The latest twist of our lighter-styled wine times has been a rediscovery of “claret”—that is, the buoyant red wines, a couple steps past rosé, common prior to the 20th century, especially in Bordeaux. The idea has similarly migrated to Piedmont, and to the nebbiolo grape. The mischievous Giuseppe Vajra did deep historical research to attempt to rediscover the style of nebbiolo made in the 17th and 18th centuries (the “J” is for Jefferson, who described such wines, the “C” for wine savant Darrell Corti, who helped with research). Vajra used a light touch in vinifying fruit from younger vines in Barolo and nearby, and bottled it quickly, resulting in nebbiolo that shows more of orange-blossom fragrance than the grape’s usual burnt-orange low tones, plus a whispery mineral aspect and little of the grape’s aggro tannins. Think of it as nebbiolo masquerading as Beaujolais. Jon Bonné, Punch ‘The 25 Essential Wines of 2018’
2017 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo RRP $53
Our focus for the Langhe Nebbiolo is aromatic purity. The fruit comes from our young vines in Barolo, Novello, Sinio and Bricco Bertone. The grapes are handpicked early in the morning so as to capture their quintessential character. Vinification is long and extremely gentle in order to retain lift and tension in this wine.
Nebbiolo is usually harvested between the second half of September and the beginning of October. Picking decisions are individual to each site, and we sometimes opt for multiple passages to respect the diversity of each vine. Fermentation lasts for an average of 15-20 days in vertical vats, and is followed by spontaneous malolactic conversion. Our Langhe Nebbiolo is usually aged for 8 to 14 months. It is a wide range, in order to respect the uniqueness of each vintage and patiently wait for the optimal bottling time. Most of the ageing is carried out in stainless-steel vats, with a minor fraction of the wine being matured in neutral oak – but only when needed. – Giuseppe Vaira
How’s the clarity? So much clarity. Red fruit, cherry, almond paste, spice. Medium-bodied, fresh and sure-footed, succulence of flavour without sweetness, gentle rasp of tannin, and that almond thing really hooks me, along with a clear and long finish. Delicate and beautiful. 93 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front November 2018
2014 G.D. Vajra Freisa Kyè RRP $96
Freisa is a noble grape, rare and fighting for survival. It’s been part of the history and identity of Piedmont since ancient times, Freisa is one of the closest relatives of Nebbiolo, as demonstrated in 2004 by Professor Anna Schneider of Turin University. Our Kyè is the tribute to Freisa and its great and wild personality.
The fruit comes from our San Ponzio vineyard in Barolo, which sits at an altitude between 390 and 410m, on clay soil. The perfect time for harvesting Freisa is determined by alternating warm autumn days and cool nights; in general this happens in the second half of October, 20-30 days later than the average. The removal of stems, the most acidic part of the fruit and with the greater charge of green tannins, is essential. The must undergoes a fairly long fermentation, which allows the integration of grape tannins into the wine, followed by a malolactic conversion (equally important for this variety). It is matured for about 12-18 months, depending on the vintage, partly in large Slavonian oak casks and partly in barriques, to give the necessary balance to the wine. – Giuseppe Vaira
2015 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe LUC $98
Albe is a tribute to the masters of the 1950s and 60s, to those winemakers who had the vision and the taste to blend some of the most amazing crus in order to achieve a Barolo of balance and charm.
The high-elevation vineyards for Barolo Albe have an exposure ranging from south-south-east to south-west. The grapes are usually picked in the second half of the Nebbiolo harvest. Vinification is done in custom-designed vertical vats, with gentle punch down and pumpovers. Maceration lasts 25 days on average. Malolactic conversion occurs in stainless steel the following spring. Albe rests on average between 30 and 36 months in large (40, 50 and 75hL) Slavonian oak casks. The wine is usually racked once a year. Blending is decided in the spring prior to bottling. – Giuseppe Vaira
Sourced from three Barolo crus: Fossati, Coste di Vergne and La Volta. Red fruits, aniseed, new leather, spice and roses. Youthful and primary aromatics, medium-bodied, ripples of smooth powdery tannin, a playful red fruit character, some tea flavour and a good long finish. It’s an excellent wine, but needs some time to settle down. High potential for attractive drinking in a few years. 93 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2019
2015 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole RRP $163
Bricco delle Viole is like a cut of silk: pure, elegant, and ethereal. Born on the highest hill of Barolo, a promontory facing south, embraced by the Alps. It receives the first morning sun and the last ray of the evening. In autumn this vineyard seems to float above the fog, as if detached from time and light.
The vineyard features material from 1949 and successive plantings in 1963, 1968 and 1985. Bricco delle Viole possesses extremely white soils. Rich in limestone, magnesium and manganese, with the contribution of high altitude and the afternoon breeze, these soils create wines rich in finesse, floral aromas and freshness.
The old vines of Bricco delle Viole are the last to be harvested – a wait that makes our heart beat faster, because the weather can change rapidly in autumn. But the patience of the farmer knows that the wait will be rewarded with high aromatic complexity and extreme finesse. The fruit undergoes a long maceration that might go as long as 45 days, including some time with a submerged cap. Malolactic conversion takes place in steel in the spring following the harvest. It’s then aged for 32 months in 25hL Slavonian oak casks before bottling. – Giuseppe Vaira
Having now tasted a reasonable number of Barolo from 2015, I feel a little more confident about affirming its high quality. Perhaps not the most long-lived vintage, but good tannin, approachable supple nature, and surprising freshness.
Red cherry, strawberry, aniseed, fair old perfume, light dusting of spice and flowers. Medium-bodied, deft, fresh strawberry, brightness and energy here, with fine almost silky tannin that’s very persistent, super length and a wonderful sense of composure and class throughout. Sneaking a second glass and coming back, it looks even better again, with a mineral and tea thing happening. Wonderful. 96+ points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2019
The flagship Barolo Bricco delle Viole is quite understated and gracious in 2015. Medium in body, with the persistent tannins that are so typical of this site, the 2015 is lithe, focused and full of energy. The warm vintage notwithstanding, in 2015, Vajra’s Bricco delle Viole is distinctly sinewy and tense. It will offer considerable appeal to readers who find some of the other 2015 Barolos too open and giving in their youthful stage. Kirsch, rose petal, mint and chalky notes build into a finely cut finish. Time in the glass softens some of the youthful, austere contours, but this remains a 2015 Barolo that needs time in bottle to be at its very best. 93+ points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2019
Seductive sweetness of red fruits with a note of olives. Dry tannic finesse with succulent fruit, much more juicy than I expected. Very young still but delicious with bite and persistence. Very fresh. 17.5/20 Julia Harding MW, jancisrobinson.com June 2017
2015 G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera RRP $149
In the 1980s newlyweds Milena and Aldo were already cultivating a little area of Ravera planted to 100% Nebbiolo. This wine is the expression of a wait lasting more than 10 years, allowing the vines to mature and the wines to gain the right structure. It’s the sunniest, most silent and beautiful amphitheatre of the area. Ravera sits at an average elevation of 360 metres and is situated at the confluence of two different geological matrices. Over millions of years the layers were superimposed, creating a rather fragile soil subject to erosion, but with enormous potential. It is predominantly Sant’Agata fossil marl, interspersed with sand deposits rich in iron.
This undergoes a lengthy period of maceration, perhaps up to 45 days, including a short stint with submerged cap. Malolactic conversion takes place in steel in the spring following the harvest. It is aged for 30 months in 30hL Slavonian oak casks before bottling. – Giuseppe Vaira
Spicy, red cherry to dark cherry, ironstone and mineral, dried rose/vanilla. Moving into fuller bodied, but still fine, firm but supple tannin, fresh, acidity is tight and controlling, and a feature of the wine. Length is top shelf. Superb. Quiet power with intensity and class. The aftertaste moves into raspberry and other red fruits. Yes, thanks very much. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2019
The 2015 Barolo Ravera captures all the best the vintage has to offer. More importantly, it has that extra level of textural richness and sweetness that the Bricco delle Viole does not have, at least not today. Creamy and beautifully textured in the glass, the 2015 is a total winner. Bright red raspberry and pomegranate fruit notes are lifted, while expressive floral and blood orange overtones add brightness. The 2015 suggests that the Ravera might, in time, become the flagship wine here. Don’t miss it! 95 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2019
2017 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti RRP $39 screwcap
Moscato d’Asti is a wine of wonderful but little-known potential. Light and fragrant, fresh and without cloying sweetness, it presents minerality and savoury notes that allow you to experiment with food pairing, or just enjoy it by itself. The fruit comes from three beautiful vineyards: Riforno and San Donato in Mango, and Moncucco in Santo Stefano Belbo – and all from old and deep-rooted vines.
The grapes are gently pressed before a brief cold settling and then fermentation, which goes for about a week. The first bottling, as soon as November, allows the wine to cheer the Christmas table. – Giuseppe Vaira
Bright straw-green. Very intense aromas and flavors of vanilla, white peach, orange blossom and lemon verbena. Ripe and luscious but fresh, featuring precise flavors of fresh citrus, vanilla and cinnamon. Finishes long and honeyed but with noteworthy floral lift. This is made with grapes grown in two vineyards in Mango (Riforno and San Donato) and one in Santo Stefano Belbo (Moncucco), both grand cru areas for Moscato Bianco. The 2017 Moscato d’Asti from Vajra is one of his best in recent years – and keep in mind that this is almost always a truly superb wine. In fact, as good as many of the Vajra family’s wines are (such as, for example, many standout Barolos, a benchmark Freisa, an outstanding Dolcetto and Piedmont’s most famous if not best Riesling wine), their Moscato d’Asti is almost always, each year, one of the denomination’s best. 93 points. Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media December 2018
G.D. Vajra Barolo Chinato RRP $140
Barolo Chinato is an ancient Piedmontese digestif. The wine used as a production base is Barolo Albe of the current vintage. The “chinatura” is the addition of infusions of about 30 herbs, rinds and roots, including Cinchona Calisaya, hence the name. The blend is about 85% DOCG Barolo Albe and 15% hydro-alcoholic extracts of aromatic and medicinal herbs. We choose those favoured for their specific digestive, decongestant and relaxing properties, drawing liberally from the rich floral heritage of the Alps that hug Piedmont. Spices, brown sugar and the peel of organic oranges from Sicily complete the process.
It’s intense ruby red in the glass, and the nose displays typical freshness of our Barolo, with a weave of roses and ripe cherries, fresh mountain herbs and orange zest. In the mouth it’s bittersweet and persistent – beautiful as a digestif or paired with dark chocolate. – Giuseppe Vaira
THE WINES – LUIGI BAUDANA
2017 Luigi Baudana Dragon RRP $43 screwcap
This is a field blend of white varieties mostly planted side by side, vinified together in an extremely unusual way for Piemonte. The varieties in the Dragon blend are delicate and the first we pick at Baudana every year. Fermentation lasts an average of 7-15 days in vertical vats. Dragon is then aged till the following spring in stainless-steel tanks, with patience and until the wine blossoms into full harmony. It’s bright, pale yellow enriched by dry perfume of stone, flowers and summery grass. Dry and slightly savoury on the palate, its crisp freshness is well balanced by ripe flavours. – Giuseppe Vaira
Fragrant wine of great interest, vivacity and fruitiness. Scents of frangipani, candied citrus, fresh apple juice, bath salts. Palate is sweet-ish, fruity as can be, a touch sweet but cut nicely with lemony acidity, indeed, almost Warhead Lolly tang here. It’s a little wild and savoury underneath that, which keeps things interesting. I like this. Exotic. 93 points. Mike Bennie, The Wine Front April 2019
2015 Luigi Baudana Barolo Serralunga RRP $115
These Nebbiolo vineyards are located in Serralunga with slightly varying soil compositions. An average altitude of 340m and vines aged between 20 and 30 years complete the identity of this wine. The harvest takes place in the second half of October, enjoying till the last moment the rich nourishment the soil offers. The grapes are sorted by hand. Fermentation usually lasts 25 days before the wine is moved into large casks for ageing. – Giuseppe Vaira
The 2015 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba is a blend of mostly younger vine fruit from Cerretta and Baudana. Deep and expressive in the glass, the 2015 is a fabulous wine in its peer group. Smoke, tar, dark red fruit, iron and wild herbs add striking nuance to a Barolo that shows all the muscle and power of Serralunga while retaining a mid-weight feel. I would prefer to cellar it for at least a few years. The combination of beguiling aromatics, supple fruit and good supporting structure makes for a compelling, delicious Barolo. 92 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2019
2015 Luigi Baudana Barolo Cerretta RRP $163
Cerretta lies opposite Baudana on the east slope of Serralunga. The soil belongs entirely to the Formazioni di Lequio: a thin layer of white marl covering a deep subsoil of red clay. Grapes are picked from 40-year-old wines of multiple biotypes of Nebbiolo, representing the incredible heritage of Luigi’s work.
Nebbiolo has the longest vegetative cycle among local varieties, and is usually harvested around the third week of October. Fermentation is carried out primarily in one large cask. The Cerretta vineyard always has a slow start to fermentation, which then goes for 35-40 days on average. Post-fermentation “cappello sommerso” (submerged cap) follows for another week in greater vintages. Cerretta is aged in large Slavonian casks for 32 months on average. – Giuseppe Vaira
A couple of days ago we tasted through the range at Vajra, and what a great morning it was. Even for the slightly jaded, big smiles and excitement.
Liquorice, dark fruit, gentle spice, succulence, power, black tea and iron, tannin is just typical of the vineyard, and so sweet, so lovely, and fresh too. Length; carries on and on. Hello! Here’s a wine that moves me. The shortest note, and note, no spitting, much smiling. I wrote 96-97 as the score, but will proceed with caution. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2019
If the Baudana is a wine of sensuality, the 2015 Barolo Cerretta is a Barolo of virile, explosive power, which, among other things, shows just how different the wines of Serralunga can be. Black cherry, plum, sage, menthol and licorice hit the palate in a firm, massively tannic Barolo that is going to require considerable patience. The Cerretta is the embodiment of Serralunga richness and structure. What a wine! 95 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2019
2015 Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana RRP $163
Baudana is located on the western slope of Serralunga and belongs to a fine cluster of vineyards among Lazzarito, Parafada, Rionda, Falletto and Francia. The soil is a composition of Marne di Sant’Agata mixed with Formazioni di Lequio. It’s white on the surface and distinctively blue underneath. The site enjoys amazing soil conditions, thanks to higher water retention.
Harvest usually takes place in the third week of October. Fermentation starts quite fast and runs smoothly for approximately 30 days, followed by another 10 days of maceration. One Slavonian cask is used to ferment most of the grapes, with some stainless-steel vessels used as a backup. Punch-downs and gentle pumpovers are the only activity over the maceration period. The wine is racked into oak after malolactic conversion and spends an average of 32+ months in large Slavonian oak casks. – Giuseppe Vaira
Earth, spice, blood, a bit reductive as at now, plus red berries. Full-bodied, powerful, but juicy with sweetness of red fruit, grip and open-weave tannin, fresh, tannic and long. Brooding. Really needs a good bit of time, but what a beautiful wine. 95+ points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2019
The 2015 Barolo Baudana is powerful, ample and deep, with tons of brightness to play off the sweet red cherry and pomegranate fruit. Already quite expressive, the 2015 appears to have a very bright future. Even today, its balance is simply impeccable. Within the context of the year, the 2015 Baudana is one of the most polished refined wines readers will taste. 94+ points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2019
ALSO AVAILABLE IN LIMITED QUANTITIES…
2014 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe RRP $98
A tribute to local tradition, the 2014 Barolo Albe represents an assembly of fruit from various vineyard plots throughout the area. Winemaking is classic in approach with a 25-day maceration period and aging in large Slavonian oak casks. This vintage shows silky, fine lines and a more accessible approach for near and medium-term drinking. I would recommend a few more years of bottle aging, however, to allow the wine the time to grow in texture and mouthfeel. 91 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
2014 G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera RRP $149
Earthy, savoury, rolling tannin, minerally feel, has depth and rosy perfume in there. Soil. The quality of tannin is pretty good here, especially considering it’s from 2014. Thick and ripe, even like recalling the wonders of Serralunga (as some parts of Novello often do) with a raspberry freshness. It feels well-etched and clear, and while softer and more approachable this vintage, it’s still pretty robust. And very bloody good. 94+ points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front September 2018