Gaja Sperss 2016
Gaja celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009 – it was founded with only two hectares (five acres) by Giovanni Gaja, whose ancestors originally came from Spain in the 17th Century – and is now run by Gaia Gaja, the fifth generation of the family to make wine in Barbaresco. Angelo Gaja is often credited with initiating the winery's modern success, but there were other important predecessors. Angelo points to the crucial influence of his grandmother, Clotilde Rey, after whom the winery's Chardonnay, Gaia & Rey, is named, as "the person who pushed my father and grandfather in the direction of quality".
Angelo's father, another Giovanni, continued the good work. It was he who began to acquire some of the best vineyards in Barbaresco in the 1960s, including the three "crus" for which the winery is best known: Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildìn and Costa Russi. He was also the first person to put the name Gaja, or rather GAJA, in large red type on his labels in 1937, demonstrating a flair for marketing that he passed on to his son and granddaughter. "We don't sell Barbaresco, Barolo, Bolgheri or Brunello," says Angelo, "we sell Gaja."
Giovanni was not without ambition, but the business was transformed by the arrival of his energetic son, Angelo, a human whirlwind who joined the winery after graduating from Alba's school of enology in 1961. Angelo traveled widely, particularly to France, in the early years. He also introduced sweeping changes in the vineyard and the cellar, especially after he took over full time in 1970, including higher density planting, green harvesting, lower yields, temperature-controlled vinifications, shorter macerations, new French oak barriques and longer corks. Angelo created the single vineyard Barbarescos (Sorì San Lorenzo in 1967, Sorì Tildìn in 1970 and Costa Russi in 1978). Just as importantly, he appointed the enologist Guido Rivella as his winemaker and collaborator, giving himself more freedom to concentrate on sales, marketing and vineyard acquisitions.
Relations between father and son were not always easy. Giovanni opposed Angelo's use of new barriques, as well as the planting of French grapes. The name of Gaja's Cabernet Sauvignon-based red, Darmagi, first released in 1985, means "what a pity" in the Piedmont dialect, said to be Giovanni’s reaction to the arrival of Bordeaux varieties in Barbaresco. The bond between Angelo and his aptly named daughter, Gaia Gaja, is considerably more relaxed. The handover between generations has been smoother this time. As well as striking physical similarities, the two have a work ethic, a sense of humor, a love of fast cars, and a dedication to the family business in common. Angelo's other daughter, Rossana, shares the running of the company.
|Region||Italy, Piedmont, Barolo|
Wine AdvocateThe golden touch, that proverbial Gaja magic, is taken to a whole new level in the 2016 Barolo Sperss. Angelo Gaja has taught his children to follow their own path, and now that the generational switch is well underway at the family estate, we can see that Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni have done him proud. Very proud. This stunning expression from the 2016 vintage (with 16,000 bottles released) represents quite a few celebratory milestones. We are now in the fifth generation to protect the Gaja legacy in an unbroken family chain that has endured since 1859. This wine is 100% Nebbiolo, and since the 2013 vintage, it is part of the Barolo DOCG appellation. Winemaking has been tweaked to embrace a more elegant, ethereal and streamlined personality, instead of the bigger extraction we saw in the past. This upgraded identity is distinctly evident in this newest release of Sperss. Starting with appearance, the wine is luminous and bright with shiny ruby and garnet gemstone. Its aromatic reach is three-dimensional with width, height and depth. Delicate berry tones cede to pressed lilac, anise, sandalwood and cardamom spice. I double decanted and left the bottle open for a few hours before my tasting. The results are tight and gentle, and the wine shows beautiful vertical lift and intensity. To achieve this much power without the excess fruit weight is really quite an accomplishment. This is the magic of Nebbiolo, and the magic of Gaja.
Wine EnthusiastRose, iris, red berry and camphor mingle with a whiff of dark spice on this gorgeous, radiant red. Firmly structured but also boasting extraordinary finesse, the chiseled palate delivers ripe morello cherry, crushed raspberry, star anise and tobacco set against a backbone of taut fine-grained tannins. Vibrant acidity keeps it well balanced and energized. Drink 2024-2046.