Many years ago, as a lover of Barolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and–let’s face it–all things Piedmont, I walked into one of my favorite retailers on a Saturday morning with the intention of browsing their selection. Instead, I was greeted to an in-store tasting that introduced me to a producer who has since become a staple of my own collection, as well as a selection of wines that I’m proud to represent in our own store today. That producer is G.D. Vajra.
The international face of G.D. Vajra is Giuseppe, son of the owner Aldo, and a man who exudes passion for both his family and the Langhe. At first, it was this passion that drew me to the wines; yet the second I put my nose to the glass and then took a sip, it required no more convincing. I knew I was a fan.
This tasting spanned the entire range of wines, from the native Freisa (which Vajra has mastered), to the venerable Barolo, and onto one of the best Riesling you’ll ever taste from Italy. It inspired me to look deeper and understand more. I asked myself, how could a producer of wines such as these stay off my radar for so long? Much of it has to do with location, as this property isn’t located within the township of Barolo, or Castiglione, or La Morra. Instead, the G.D. Vajra winery is located in Vergne, the highest village on the western edge of the Barolo-growing area.
Can you name me another Barolo producer in Vergne? I’m sure that, today, some of the most devoted Barolo collectors can. However, ten years ago, I’d be amazed if they knew one. Much of this is the result of global warming, as this high-altitude location is benefitting from climate change. The vineyard of Bricco delle Viole (within Barolo) was once considered a site that would only produce lifted and finessed wines, yet could be looked to for a more serious example in warmer vintages. Today, however, it’s producing utterly classic examples in both warm and cool years.
This is not to say that G.D. Vajra has only come to the world stage due to climate change. Quite the opposite; this winery, firmly established in the early seventies, had been a pioneer among Barolo producers in the region, having started as fully organic before others even had the insight to do so. What’s more, it’s a truly traditional house that had realized early on that the only drawback to the older ways was in the cleanliness of their cellars. And so, G.D. Vajra operated for decades as a traditional producer who was well ahead of the times.
Today, G.D. Vajra operates under many of the same principles, maintaining the same level of excellence and tending their parcels through sustainable practices, yet has firmly established itself as one of the largest producers of wine in the region. Their classic and finessed single-vineyard Barolo Bricco delle Viole is now one of the top-scoring wines of every vintage, and it has now been perfectly complemented by the acquiring of the Baudana winery and their lineup of Serralunga Baroli.
What’s even more amazing is Vajra’s ability to produce their Barolo Albe, one of the greatest values in the region today. With fruit from a mix of high-altitude vineyards within Barolo (Fossati, Coste di Vergne and La Volta), the Able is said to be made in a more forward style, yet one can not deny its ability to mature gracefully for a decade or more.
Add to this their Barbera Superiore (a personal household favorite and one of the best of it’s kind), the Freisa Kyè (Dark, rich, intense with a hint of tantalizing bitterness), and the Dolcetto Coste & Fossati, (which would prove even the most stubborn Dolcetto naysayer wrong), and you have all of the Piedmont classics covered.
So what’s left? Riesling, Moscato, Chinato… Yes, they excel with these as well.
So as we are looking at vintages ahead and what’s come before, I hope my message is clear that G.D. Vajra is not just a producer to watch, their wines are a must-have for any Piedmont lover, Barolo collector, or adventurous palate. They are the perfect introduction to the region, as well as a reference point producer, and if you find yourself chatting with Giuseppe Vajra one day down the road, listen well, as the complete picture of what this family has accomplished is hit home by the love they have for their land, their family, and Barolo.
Below are a few of my favorite wines in recent vintages.
2011 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo – The nose was vibrant with cherry and raspberry, hints of spice, crushed fall leaves and floral perfumes. On the palate it was juicy with intense red berry, clove and cinnamon stick, yet not sweet. The finish showed hints of tannin with tart cherry and mouthwatering acidity providing a beautiful balance. (90 points)
2013 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati – The bouquet was dark and intense with violet floral tones up front, blackberry and tart cherry, pine, savory herbs, and minerals. It entered the palate with silky textures, then a sudden burst of acidity and tart blackberry fruit; yet as the cheeks puckered, the mouth also began to water, forming beautiful contrasts. If finished incredibly fresh, displaying inner floral tones, minerals and tart berry fruit. (92 points) * Find it at Morrell
2012 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore – The nose was gorgeous, showing dark red fruit, licorice, sweet herbs, and dusty spice. It was silky, yet driven by vibrant acidity on the palate with crushed tart cherry, exotic spice and saline-minerality. Finishing with a coating of concentrated fruit upon the senses, yet suddenly becoming mouthwatering and fresh—what an experience. This is an amazing value and a wine of stature. (93 points) * Find it at Morrell
2013 G.D. Vajra Langhe Riesling Petracine – The nose was bright with intense fruit and floral aromas, showing ripe stone fruit, spring florals, and hints of citrus and minerals. On the palate, it showed persistence with its green apple and lime fruit with a hint of herbs and a pleasant tang of zesty acidity. The long floral finish made a lasting impression. (91 points)
2006 G.D. Vajra Langhe Freisa Kyè – The nose was dark, sensual and exotic, showing dusty spice, crushed dried flowers, pine, black raspberry, and stone. On the palate, intense yet silky textures were made vibrant by a core of juicy acidity. Cherry turned to cranberry with herbs and hints of cocoa, brightening as it traveled across the palate. The finish was mouth-puckering and long with tart fruits and tannin saturating the senses. Still very young, and demanding a few more years before the next visit. (94 points)
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe – The 2010 Barolo Albe impressed with a bouquet which literally reached up from the glass to pull you in. Notes of pine nettle and mint were front and center, joined by wild berry fruit and floral rosy tones. On the palate, sappy, brooding red fruits were contrasted by a streak of vibrant acidity. It was tightly coiled yet silky at the same time, with an herbal lift lending freshness. The finish was long and seemed to touch upon all the senses while also revealing a formidable structure, which was otherwise buried under its intense fruit. It’s surprisingly enjoyable now yet will reward further cellaring. (92 points)
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – Talk about potential. Through a series of events, I was given the opportunity to taste this bottle three times throughout the day, and each taste was better than the one before. At 10am, it was all about intensity and densely-packed fruit laced with minerals and finishing on tannin. At 1pm, it began to open, gaining flesh and nuance as spice, leather, earth and balsamic tones joined the mix. At 5pm, it was a study in elegance. Still youthful in its tannin, but so giving all the same. Gorgeous floral tones and dark red fruits gave way to cedar and minerals. This is a wine for the ages. (95 points) * Find it at Morrell
2009 Luigi Baudana (Vajra) Barolo Cerretta – This was yet another tremendous experience with 2009 Baudana; this time the Cerretta vineyard. The bouquet was dark and powerful with intense red fruits offset by violet floral tones, minerals and chalk dust. The longer it sat in the glass, the more this beautiful wine continued to open. On the palate, rich, dark red and black fruit seemed to saturate the senses yet was held in check by strict Nebbiolo tannin and acidity. The finish was redolent of black licorice and dried cherry, making for a truly impressive finale. This is simply gorgeous and a standout of the vintage. (94 points)
Article and tasting notes by: Eric Guido