A few kilometres South of La Morra, in the commune of Barolo, is the G. D. Vajra winery. Most recognised for their Bricco delle Viole cru Barolo, Vajra’s wines have appeared in the MW exams a fair few times and have been tasting samples several times for me.
So, it was inevitable that we would make an appointment here. With the harvest well underway when we arrived, we were initially met by viticulturalist and youngest son, Isidoro then eldest son and winemaker Giuseppe arrived later. Our appointment coincided with their Norwegian importers, which made for a nice dynamic in visit and tasting.
I also tasted some wines again in January 2018 when Giuseppe presented some of the range at Liberty Wines’ portfolio tasting in London.
In 1970 the family restarted grapegrowing. 1972 was their first vintage making wine, as the vintage was so bad that they couldn’t sell the fruit. They were certified organic from 1971 to 1993, but after buying some small vineyards, certification got too expensive. They are now in the process of re-certifying, but have a sustainable certification in the interim. In recent years, they have been studying the flora of Bricco delle Viole to improve viticulture.
They have been diversifying grape varieties, with Erbaluce planted and production of Pinot Nero, as well as having a small Nascetta vineyard and Riesling also planted. They have also recently begun bottling a pure Freisa.
Most recently, they were able to buy the Luigi Baudana estate in Serralunga d’Alba, as a result of meetings with the Baudana family that convinced them that the Vajra philosophy best suited their wines.
For winemaking, grapes are sorted 3 times – in the vineyard, then a primary bunch selection in the winery, followed by single berry selection after gentle destemming. Fermentation and malolactic are both done in stainless steel, before botti maturation.
Giuseppe’s view of the much-talked-down 2014 vintage is that it is their best since 2008.
From the visit, in order tasted. A = Appearance, N = Nose, P = palate; scores are out of 20 because I can.
G. D. Vajra Luigi Baudana Langhe Bianco Dragon 2016 (16.5 / 20)
30% Nascetta, 30% Chardonnay, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Riesling. 13.5% ABV. A garagiste style wine, bottled under screwcap. From Baudana vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, formerly owned by the Baudana family. The family had no kids, so put the estate up for sale. Vajra bought the winery but continued with a small winery on site, to maintain the philosophy and style of the estate. Dragon was originally Langhe Chardonnay (but with some Sauvignon Blanc hidden in amongst the vines). Vajra had a small Nascetta vineyard and also have added Riesling.
A: Very pale gold
N: Honey, ripe stone fruit, nutty. Some leaf. Creamy
P: Crisp entry, some phenolics, ripe fruit, spice and warmth
G. D. Vajra Langhe Riesling 2016 (16.5 / 20)
First made in 1992-3 and pressed in a different winery. Now all made at the main winery. Ideally, they would age this 1-2 years before releasing it, but people expect it soon after the vintage. Vajra pioneered Riesling, but now there are 27 producers in the region. Riesling is now back on the label, having previously been ‘coded’ into the label graphic. 2016 had a relatively late growing season with a sizeable crop – giving aromatics and high acidity. Sometimes they have an overnight cold soak, pre-fermentation to add aromatic intensity, but need to have elegance not just power, so take care with this.
A: Pale-medium lemon
N: Hint of reduction, then gentle toast; earthy, spicy touch. Some faint kerosene
P: Firm acidity, steely mid palate. Flinty. Lime-lemon. Creamy mid-palate. Honey touch to finish. Good length, with perfume
G. D. Vajra N. S. Della Neve Metodo Classico NV (?? / 20)
50% Pinot Noir, 50% Nebbiolo, 11.5% ABV. New experimental cuvée, inspired by a ‘hipster from 1606’ who had to add extra bands round the barrels he was maturing wine in to resist the extra pressure. 12 hour pre-fermentation maceration to get depth of colour. Just over 48 months on lees. Intention is to create a more powerful and rustic style, for winter and food matching.
A: Vibrant orange / deep salmon
N: Orange peel, subtle toast, ripe stone fruit and red berries; deep. Minty Nebbiolo
P: Loose knit, stony pebbly red fruit. Powerful. Chalky phenolic grip. Dry
G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo Clare J. C. 2016 (16 / 20)
3rd vintage of this wine, originally labelled Claret, but had to remove the final ‘t’ after a legal threat from Bordeaux. Deep colour intentional, with a small amount of fizz and some RS to balance the wine. Up to 30% whole bunches were used in fermentation for the 2015 vintage, but this gave too much nuttiness, so have pulled back to 15% to keep vibrancy. Rack 4 days after maceration as colour extracts faster than tannins, thereby getting colour without so much tannin. Designed to be chilled.
A: Mid cherry red
N: Scented semi-carbonic notes, fresh red cherry. Some tar beneath. Stem herb
P: Bitter cherry and bitter almond. Subtle herb. Fairly firm tannin. Berry fruit. Rounded sweetness. A bit more than moderate length
G. D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba 2016 (16 / 20)
Dolcetto is having a resurgence amongst producers, with better vineyard planting. A variety with a shorter growing season, so planted on tops of hills in the wind historically, then relegated to lesser blocks under block-planting. During winemaking, reduction is a particularly problem for Dolcetto, so the 2017 has been racked twice already by late September. Dolcetto was often ignored after its first racking, to focus on Barbera and Nebbiolo, thereby causing many reduced wines.
A: Deep purple
N: Herbal, mealy, bitter almond. Gentle toast. Blackberry and blueberry fruit
P: Rich blackberry fruit. Medium-full body. Fresh not brisk acidity. Furry firm tannins. Velvety texture beyond the tannins. Inky better-than-moderate finish
G. D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati 2016 (16.5++ / 20)
2016 just bottled. Coste and Fossati are 2 old bio-type Dolcetto vineyards that should be planted for Barolo. Average 33-year old vines are now old enough not to need oak treatment at all. To manage the potentially powerful Dolcetto tannins, they taste constantly and adapt the pigeage and pumpover regime constantly.
A: Deep purple
N: Chocolate, earth, spice, liquorice, brambles; dense and multi-layers. Smells like it’s oaked!
P: Brambles, spice, earth. Big, grainy tannins. Inky, ripe but savoury black fruit. Big. Young. Long
G. D. Vajra Dogliani Monterustico 2016 (16.5 / 20)
Dolcetto from 3 vineyards recently purchased that are just over 10Ha. One is closest to the river, so stony and more humid, giving spicy tones. One is red clay, giving more power and darkness. One is on the Monterustico hill, on white marl, giving elegance. The heavier soils generally give a more powerful style
A: Deep purple
N: Violet perfume, raspberry and ripe blackberry. Earth. Chilli spice
P: Fresh, blackberry and raspberry fruit. Fresh acidity. More supple, chalky tannins. Just lacking a little length
G. D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba 2015 (16.5 / 20)
6 vineyards, blended together, with 3 broad soil types. Aiming for a halfway-house between the modern, ripe style and the lean, acid style of Barbera.
A: Mid-deep ruby
N: Toasty spice notes to black cherry
P: Fresh, brisk acidity, but with rounded mouth-coating black cherry fruit. Medium, fine tannins
G. D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2014 (17 / 20)
Formerly labelled with Bricco della Viole. Traditionally a big wine, but 2014 has brighter acidity. 33 days post-fermentation maceration, then 18 months in old Slavonian oak.
A: Deep ruby-purple
N: Nutty edge, smoky / flinty stone mineral. Deep, dark fruit.
P: Sweet / savoury fruit. Bright, fairly brisk acidity. Spice. Power. Density. But with freshness. Warming (15% ABV)
G. D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo 2016 (16.5 / 20)
Bottled 3 weeks ago. Only 1 punch-down. Using a more open crusher, more intact berries went into the fermentation, to give some fruitiness. Fermentation at up to 30-32C.
A: Pale ruby, with a hint of garnet
N: Fresh earth and nutty toast edges to sweet red cherry fruit. Bitter almond breadth
P: Red cherry. Nutty touch. Firm, chalky tannins. Crisp acidity. Some spice. Supple and approachable
G. D. Vajra Langhe Freisa Kyé 2014 (16+ / 20)
Freisa is a wilder vine, giving more rustic tannins and a riper, strawberry fruit style.
A: Mid-deep ruby
N: Nutty. Ripe strawberry beneath. Some clay-earth minerality. Gentle barrel notes of breadth. Less aromatic than Nebbiolo, but still some spicy perfume
P: Brisk acidity. Crunchy red berry fruit. Chalky, grainy very firm tannins. Some meaty mid-palate notes. Fairly long length. Needs time?
G. D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2013 (16+ / 20)
Spring rain reduced flowering and added some mildew pressure, so meant a smaller yield. Harvested in the first half of October, 7-10 days later than 2012.
A: Pale ruby, with rose hints
N: Very perfumed, slightly stewed red cherry. Hint of fresh leather. Some background nuttiness
P: Sweet red cherry entry. Fair acidity. High, slightly grainy tannins. Savoury, subtle spice. Very firm. Medium-long length
G. D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2013 (17++ / 20)
A: Medium ruby, with garnet hints
N: Dense, earthy / nutty. Rich. Ripe black cherry. Hint of spice
P: Fresh, sweet, red & black cherry. Dense, full flavour, but great freshness. High, chalky tannins
G. D. Vajra Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana 2014 (17+ / 20)
Unlabelled and just bottled. 20-32 months maturation in large oak for the 2014s, between 15 and 20HL casks as the winery is small.
A: Pale ruby-garnet
N: Earth, nutty / toast, hint of tea. Integrated, complex, subtly spiced. Quite forward.
P: Juicy cherry. High, but fine tannins. Earthy, spicy mid-palate. Chewy. Fair length. Appears more mature than the 2013 tasted previously