It’s a tremendous thrill to bring to you CellarHand’s opening offer from Barolo’s Vaira family.
We’ve long been enormous fans of the wines and – through various personal means – enjoyed crossing paths with the Vaira family. It’s clear they share so much in common with CellarHand and the growers in our portfolio: tremendous pride in their origins and values; commitment to family and home; and a spirit of adventure. On top of that, as leaders in their field with open minds and broad horizons, we feel this is a real meeting of minds, hearts and wills.
We’ve put together a shipment that celebrates the estate’s broad palette of sites and styles. Many of us tasted with brothers Giuseppe and Isidoro at ProWein in March before heading to the family home to walk the vineyards in spring, taking an even closer look at what promises to be a very bright future for the estate.
Many will need no introduction to what Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media calls “a world of sublime hand-crafted, artisan wines of the very highest level”. But to those who do, it’s now run in the second generation by Giuseppe, Isidoro and Francesca Vaira, lovingly overseen by father Aldo and mother Milena. It was Aldo that founded G.D. Vajra, kicking off with a counter-cultural twist by returning to his ancestors’ land in the early ‘70s, when all else were deserting the countryside in droves. That spirit of tradition with an adaptive streak characterises this far-sighted outfit. Indeed, Aldo’s decision to embrace the rogue ‘j’ on the label – a print error that happens to hark back to the pre-1920s spelling of the family name – says a lot about the clan’s capacity to roll with it and nimbly fuse its roots with the future.
Over the years they’ve acquired coveted holdings in their home commune of Barolo as well as Novello, Sinio and Serralunga – this latter home to the stupendous wines they produce under their Luigi Baudana label.
The family excels with all the Piedmont staples – Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Moscato and the very rare Freisa, as well as Riesling that is far better than it has any right to be. Barolo Albe has made a name for itself as one of the best-value Barolos going, while Bricco delle Viole has cemented a reputation as one of the finest cru Barolo wines, period (though the aforementioned Luigi Baudana wines – entrusted to the Vairas in 2009 – give it a run for its money). At the more everyday level, there’s a wonderful Langhe Rosso, Langhe Nebbiolo and the highly original, intensely drinkable Claré JC – a wickedly bright, tank-raised, 25% whole-bunch, nouveau-style Nebb.
There’s so much to be excited about here, and so much pleasure to plunge into from the word go. It’s a joy to be able to present this picture of Piedmont to you, in all its vivid detail.
THE WINES – G.D. VAJRA
2016 G.D. Vajra Pètracine Langhe Riesling RRP $76
Aldo Vaira is the pioneer of Riesling in Piedmont. Aldo got passionate about this variety during his university studies, investigated it further, and then planted the first clones in Langa. This is how Pètracine was born, a wine whose name evokes the roots digging into the stone. It is an exercise of biodiversity, born by a massal selection from Alsace, Pfalz and Rheingau. This is a wine that requires patience, much like the great reds of our land.
The first vineyard dedicated to Riesling (1985) was the one in Fossati, located in the highest part of Barolo and facing the morning sun. The soil is a singular composition of gravel and sand. The second vineyard (2000), northeast-exposed, is situated in the region known as Bertone (Sinio), a lower hill and characterised by limestone and homogeneous soils.
The Riesling harvest takes place in the first half of September and goes on for about two to three weeks. The harvest, as well as the conveyance of the grapes in small crates, are manually carried out to preserve the whole fruit. A triple selection ensures the best quality of the grapes: first in the vineyard, observing the grapes on the vine, and later with a double sorting in the cellar. The fruit was gently pressed and the juice given a brief cold settling before fermentation that goes for about 15-20 days. The wine is aged in steel before bottling in the first half of the spring after harvest. – Giuseppe Vaira
A courageous and innovative wine, the 2016 Langhe Riesling shows impressive results in this cool vintage. This vineyard was purchased in 1984. The soils are too sandy and well-draining for Nebbiolo. At 480 meters above sea level, the site was also a bit too high. For these reasons, Riesling was planted here instead, marking the first appearance of this variety in the Langhe. The clones were soured directly from Alsace. This wine only sees stainless steel to preserve the integrity of those lime, honey and tangy grapefruit notes. 90 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
2016 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
2016 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
This is a dark and nicely balanced wine to drink with hearty pasta dishes topped with grated cheese and meat ragù. The 2016 Barbera d’Alba is a terrific food wine with bright acidity and saline, almost salty flavour qualities. All of this makes your mouth water. Fruity tones of black cherry and dried blackberry wrap thickly over the palate. Fruit is sourced from six vineyard sites and blended here. Give this wine another six months of bottle time before popping the cork. 89 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
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
2016 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
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
2014 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe RRP $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
Vajra’s 2014 Barolo Albe is a pretty wine, but it is also a touch slender. Part of that is, of course, attributable to the vintage, but in recent years the Albe has been stylistically more similar to the other Barolos in the range than it was at the outset. Suggestions of sweet tobacco, cinnamon, dried flowers and black cherry are layered in this supple, easygoing Barolo. Drink it over the next handful of years. 90 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
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 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
The 2014 Barolo Bricco delle Viole is positively stunning. There are many things about this wine that are super-impressive, but what stands out most is how soft and silky the tannins are. Because of that, the 2014 is much more approachable than it usually is, and yet also conveys the feeling of translucence that is such a signature of this site and wine. I am not sure I have ever tasted a young Bricco delle Viole with this much purity of fruit. The 2014 is total class. Don’t miss it. 96 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
Barolo. Tasted blind. Surprisingly dark ruby. Lift and concentration on the nose and with a hint of pine. Proper concentration on the palate with long powdery tannins. Youthful, embryonic and gorgeous. 17.5/20 Walter Speller, jancisrobinson.com March 2018
The much admired Aldo Vaira is now working closely with his three enthusiastic children, so the new generation is in place. This is his best known Barolo cru, showing a firm and vibrant cherry nose and quite a rich, supple palate. It’s in a forward style but has some structure and depth of flavour. It’s marked by fair acidity, elegant tannins and sweetness of fruit alongside some spice, and there’s no excessive extraction. The finish is balanced, lightly tannic and quite long. 93 points. Stephen Brook, Decanter Magazine May 2018
2014 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
A stark contrast to the Bricco delle Viole, Vajra’s 2014 Barolo Ravera is a tannic, powerful wine. There is quite a bit of power and depth, but the tannins are also rustic and a touch rough around the edges. The 2014 is going to need time to settle down. It will be interesting to see if bottle age adds polish, but today, the Ravera is a brute. 93 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
Novello. Tasted blind. Surprisingly dark ruby for this vintage. Brooding richness on the nose. Plenty of sour cherry on the palate and firm, somewhat drying tannins. This is still very youthful, and unsettled. 17/20 Walter Speller, jancisrobinson.com March 2018
G D Vajra has a bit of the Ravera vineyard located just above Elvio Cogno. This estate used the fruit to make its Langhe Nebbiolo, but as the vines grew into their prime production years, G D Vajra decided to make a Barolo with the fruit instead, starting in 2010. The plot is only half a hectare in size and the vines range in age from 18 to 45 years old. The soils are rich in minerals and iron. The 2014 Barolo Ravera is indeed a fuller and more structured expression. The bouquet opens to dark fruit, iodine and mineral nuances. Ravera is a low-altitude vineyard from an estate that is specialised in high-altitude Nebbiolo farming. That added power is well suited to this thinner vintage. 93 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
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
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
2014 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
Baudana’s 2014 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba is a fabulous entry-level bottling. Muscular Serralunga tannins enshroud a core of intense dark red fruit. The straight Barolo is a blend of fruit from the Baudana and Cerretta vineyards, and yet the wine has a level of aromatic brightness and lift that isn’t found in either of the vineyard designates. Everything about the 2014 is compelling. 92 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
This wine aspires to a greater Serralunga d’Alba identity, as opposed to a specific single cru (Baudana or Cerretta) distinction. This makes the 2014 Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba more accessible and immediate in approach. The wine is also distinguished by the softness of the cool 2014 vintage that is matched nicely against the power and strength of the Serralunga d’Alba fruit. Ultimately, these contrasting forces find harmony here. The bouquet is stitched together with pleasing wild cherry, spice and licorice aromas. 91 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
2014 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
Gravitas and pure power are the signatures of the 2014 Barolo Cerretta. The black cherry, plum, lavender, sage and menthol notes add to an impression of dark, brooding intensity to go with the wine’s vertical sense of structure. This tannic, massive Barolo is likely to require a number of years in bottle to become approachable. 93+ points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
Serralunga d’Alba. Tasted blind. Dark ruby. Lifted, lively concentrated red-fruit nose with a peppery edge. Succulent and multi-layered fruit palate with a lasting impact of sandy tannins. 17/20 Walter Speller, jancisrobinson.com March 2018
The Cerretta vineyard is distinguished by thick red clay soils at its lower elevations. This segment of the vineyard provides the power and structure that holds this wine so firmly together. Indeed, that sense of power and dark fruit momentum outpaces the delicate and nuanced characteristics that are generally attributed to the cooler and immediate 2014 vintage. The 2014 Barolo Cerretta is a powerhouse wine—packed tight with dark fruit, spice and licorice—that should hold steady over the next 10-20 years of cellar aging. 93 points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018
2014 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
A darker side of Nebbiolo emerges from the 2014 Barolo Baudana. Powerful but also supple, the 2014 is a wine of pure, arresting beauty. Sweet red cherry, kirsch and floral notes meld together in a striking, textured Barolo that is a joy to taste, even at this early stage. 95 points. Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media February 2018
Serralunga d’Alba. Tasted blind. Deep ruby with orange tinges. Earthy, minerally nose with hints of exotic spice. Sour cherry on the attack that is a little austere – but displaying a succulent finish with layers and layers of grainy tannins. 17.5/20 Walter Speller, jancisrobinson.com March 2018
Located beyond the sprawling Fontanafredda estate, Baudana has consistently maintained its reputation for top-notch Nebbiolo. In fact, those who farmed this vineyard never had difficulty selling its fruit. Barolo Baudana was one of the first crus to be exported successfully into foreign markets. The site sees sandy limestone mixed with veins of heavier blue clay. You get both elegance and structure as a result. The 2014 Barolo Baudana reveals black and purple fruit characteristics with ethereal tones of smoke, tar and spice on the finish. 93+ points. Monica Larner, Wine Advocate June 2018