Gaja describes his 1999 nebbiolo wines as outstanding, dense and extremely long, but notes that they are still a bit severe. Interestingly, he considers his '99s to be both less powerful and less approachable than the '00s, which he says are almost overripe but high in dry extract (two years ago, Gaja told me that rain in September of '99 increased the quantity of juice in that vintage by 20%). "Two thousand one has all the ingredients. It's elegant and structured, with no exaggeration. You know, elegance is always on a knife's edge. If it's not supported by body, the wine can seem simple. If there's too much body, the wine becomes a blockbuster and elegance disappears. "Yes, Gaja uses a lot of new barriques for his nebbiolo wines, but his vinification can hardly be compared to that of modernists who do quick fermentations in rotofermenters. Gaja essentially does five to seven days of fermentation at 28oC to 30oC, doing a lot of pumpovers "for the first 50% of the sugars," then brings the temperature down to 22oC for the second week and stops pumping over. There is then a third week of post-fermentation maceration. This perfectionist producer sold off almost all of his 2002 vintage in bulk, and told me he won't offer the 2003 crus either. "The summer was too hot, and the grapes burned," he explained. As I have noted previously, Gaja's top nebbiolo crus are now bottled with only their proprietary names rather than being identified as Barbaresco or Barolo. Among the reasons Gaja has dropped the Barbaresco and Barolo designations is that he wants to be free to include small percentages of barbera in his wines (typically just 5% or 6%), "as a correction for acidity. "(Paterno Wines International, Lake Bluff, IL)
($70; sauvignon blanc) Pineapple and grapefruit aromas complicated by leesy notes of hazelnut and smoke. Fat, rich and ripe, even a bit soft, but given shape by solid underlying minerality. A big, mouthfilling wine with a nutty, suave aftertaste. Seemed to grow in size and intensity as it opened in the glass.
($128) Yellow-gold color. Tangy aromas of apricot, oran ge and nutty, vanillin oak, with a honeyed note adding complexity. The exotic orange and apricot character continues in the mouth, where lovely ripe acidity perks up the wine's fruit. Concentrated and bright but not especially fleshy or structured for this bottling.
($117) Pale yellow-gold. Subdued aromas of pear and hazelnut. Smooth, suave and understated; in a rather closed stage and yet this shows more body than the 2002. A round wine with mellow, leesy notes. Finishes very smooth, with little trace of phenolics.
(aged in barriques, one-third new) Good bright yellow. Aromas of pineapple, licorice and menthol, with a hint of baking spices. Fat and thick, with substantial alcoholic weight without corresponding flavor intensity. Showed a strong apricot fruitiness, as well as elevated alcohol, as it opened in the glass. Finishes fat, smooth and persistence. In texture and ripeness, this reminded me of many 2003 white Burgundies.
($50) Complex, enticing nose melds ripe yellow fruits, melon, mirabelle, hazelnut and almond. Fat and rich, with nicely integrated acids contributing to the impression of intensity. Builds slowly and broadens out impressively on the back, finishing rich, firm and very long.
Ruby-red. Black fruits and licorice on the nose. Firm and slightly tart-edged in the mouth, with good spine but only modest flesh for this wine. Still a bit unforthcoming in the middle palate. Finishes with firm tannins that show only a trace of dryness.
Bright ruby-red. Warm, rich and inviting aromas of cassis, licorice, minerals, earth, graphite and smoky oak. Sweet, rich, broad and enveloping, with layered, building flavors of black fruits, violet, licorice, dark chocolate, tobacco and minerals. An exceptionally suave, varietally true cabernet from the Piedmont , with a seamless texture and compelling inner-mouth sweetness. Very rich, ripe and long on the finish. This may be even more complete than the very strong 1999 version, which in late September was penetrating, youthful and tightly wound.
(virtually the final assemblage, notes Gaja) Good deep red. Dark fruits, minerals, licorice, tar and smoky oak on the nose. Fat, sweet and vinous for the year, but without the structure of a top vintage. Finishes with substantial broad, dusty tannins.
Good deep red. Complex, ineffable nose combines red fruits, marzipan, tobacco and minerals. Pure, firm and sharply delineated; boasts superb richness of flavor without any undue weight. The wine's solid acid spine contributes to its impression of structure. Finishes gripping and very long.
($215) Good full red. Very ripe aromas of plum, redcurrant, animal fur, nuts, truffle, tobacco and earth. Rich, full and dry; can't match the 2001 for definition or flavor intensity but this is a distinctly stylish wine for the year. Finishes with a firm tannic edge.
(the 2001 crus were bottled in May of this year) Good deep red-ruby. Sappy, primary black fruit and mineral aromas, with hints of violet and licorice. Lush, opulent and suave, but with noteworthy energy in the mouth, thanks to brisk, harmonious acidity. Very long and firm on the back end, with the wine's tannins currently covered by sappy fruit.
Deep red-ruby. A bit less exuberant on the nose than the Cos ta Russi, hinting at plum, mocha, chocolate, underbrush and minerals. Very suave on entry, then brooding, classy and young, with far more primary black fruit and licorice flavors than the nose suggests. Less showy today than the Costa Russi but perhaps even longer, with more powerful tannins. This really calls for at least seven or eight years of additional bottle aging.
Good full red-ruby. Rather mute on the nose, hinting only at plum. Then plummy, dense and deep, with strong acids giving the wine terrific grip. Notes of licorice, violet and minerals lift the wine's fruit. Comes across as the least filled-in of these three 2001s today, but this still needs time to harmonize. Most impressive today on the powerfully structured, slow-building finish.
($374) Deep red-ruby. Enveloping aromas of plum, animal fur and smoked meat. Fat, plump and ripe but dry; a very round, rich wine with inviting flavors of plum, graphite and chocolatey oak. Uncompromisingly dry on the back, but with very sweet, fine tannins.
($374) Fresh, deep red. Superripe aromas of raspberry, currant, plum and nutty oak; showing more primary fruit today than the Costa Russi. Then sweeter and fruitier in the mouth, with a perfumed quality and lovely balancing acids. Dense and rich. The tannins are quite smooth, and the finish shows excellent building persistence and grip.
($374) Deep red-ruby. Sweet aromas of plum, spun sugar and nutty oak. Rich, round and suave, but kept firm by an edge of acidity. Less expressive today than the Sori Tildin, and more dominated by its structure. Finishes firmly tannic and uncompromisingly dry. Shows the serious side of vintage 2000. It's tempting to say that Gaja's ability to add a bit of barbera to his nebbiolo crus has resulted in fresher wines in 2000.
($346) Deep red-ruby. Reticent aromas of dark fruits, minerals and bitter chocolate. Vibrant, delineated and penetrating, with intense dark berry flavors. Finishes very long and lively, with a firm tannic spine and excellent thrust and grip.
($346) Ruby-red. Highly complex aromas of violet, minerals, smoke, game and coconut. A step up in flesh and richness from the Cos ta Russi. Very broad, dense and sweet but at the same time quite elegant and light on its feet. Very long and ripe on the aftertaste, with the wine's firm tannic structure covered by fruit. This has it all! (My bottle of the Sori San Lorenzo was similarly superb, combining great sweetness and depth of fruit, and communicating an impression of completeness; however, a close inspection of the bottle revealed that it was the 1998 vintage.)
Subdued but pure aromas of plum, minerals and tar. Sweet dark berry and tar flavors offer terrific penetration and grip for the vintage, thanks to firm acidity. This offers lovely inner-mouth energy and length. A triumph for this difficult vintage. This vineyard in Serralunga was spared the devastating hail storm of September 3, but Gaja noted that there's at least some hail here virtually every summer.
Deep, saturated red. Very rich aromas of plum, redcurrant, menthol, graphite and nutty oak, along with a cool minerality. Wonderfully rich, layered and deep; lush and suave but with energy and spine. Really packed with berry, spice, earth and mineral flavors. Finishes dense, broad and very long, with a touch of austerity.
Good deep red-ruby. Rather reticent aromas of plum, violet pastille and minerals, with hints of superripe fruits. Sweet on entry, then less fat and full than the Sperss; sharply delineated but dominated today by its spine. Finishes very bright and vibrant, though. I'd normally expect a Serralunga wine like Sperss to be more backward than this one from La Morra, but today it's the Sperss that's more expressive.
Good full red. Musky, aromatic nose combines redcurrant, tobacco, minerals and smoky oak. Lush and broad but with less buffering extract and grip than the Conteisa or Sperss bottlings. Shows a classic licorice and mineral austerity and finishes with considerable tannic clout. Gromis is a blend that includes the portion of the Cerequio vines facing southeast (Conteisa is from Cerequio vines that face full south) and Gaja's Silio vineyard, also in La Morra.
($261) Good full red. Wonderfully sweet, pure aromas of red berries, minerals and smoky oak, with suggestions of tar and dried rose; subdued and aristocratic. Then juicy and precise, with superb clarity of flavor and cut. Sweet, classy, penetrating wine that showcases the structure and energy of Serralunga. Finishes with broad, strong tannins. A superb performance for this vintage, and likely to merit an even higher score six to eight years down the road.
($193) Good deep red. Redcurrant, plum, tobacco and smoky oak on the nose. Lush, broad, ripe and quite dry; backward today and not currently showing the complexity or depth of the Sperss. Brooding flavors of licorice and menthol suggest that this wine also needs a minimum of six or seven years of additional aging. The firm tannins reach the incisors.
Good medium-deep red. Cool aromas of cassis and licorice. Then sweet and pliant in the mouth, but with less density and concentration than the Sperss or Conteisa bottlings. With a bit less stuffing, the tannins comes across as a bit youthfully tough.
($193) Good full, deep red. Wild aromas of currant, camphor, leather, tar, dark chocolate and game, with an enticing floral topnote. Lush, sweet and concentrated, but with a powerful underlying spine. Classic sweet-but-dry Barolo of great brooding richness. Quite dominated today by its structure and austere on the aftertaste, but this young Barolo offers terrific depth and persistence on the palate. May well merit an even higher rating by the end of this decade.
($166) Full red. Crystal lized redcurrant and plum on the nose. Suave on entry, then rather closed in the middle palate, hinting only at licorice and menthol. But this powerfully structured Barolo builds impressively toward the back end. The tannins are substantial but not dry.