Piedmontese pleasures

Gaja wines (Photo: Via Lucio’s website)

Not one, but two great Piedmontese wineries held tastings in Sydney on the same day recently: Bruno Rocca and Gaja.

More than just nebbiolo makers from the Langhe, Gaja and Rocca are both based in Barbaresco, so they know each other well. Gaja was represented by the daughter of Angelo Gaja, Gaia Gaja. Yes, that’s her real name. And Bruno Rocca was represented by his daughter, Luisa.

Both make great wine, but one difference is while Rocca has some modestly priced wines, Gaja doesn’t seem to do anything inexpensive. Gaja’s are among the most pricey in their appellations: we tasted a wide range of wines from sauvignon blanc to chardonnay to Bordeaux blends to sangiovese and several nebbiolos. None was cheaper than AUD $90, most costing in the hundreds of dollars. One gets the inescapable feeling that Angelo Gaja, having put Barbaresco on the world stage and achieved a profile as lofty as anyone in Italy, is determined to use price to maintain his status.

How else to explain a sauvignon blanc at AUD $245 retail and a chardonnay at AUD $446 (dearer than the superb Sperss), excellent though they are?

Gaia Gaja is, like her father, a great talker, and something of a performer. She can inform and entertain and is tremendously knowledgeable. She spoke for more than an hour while we thirstily hovered over her wines waiting patiently in their glasses. And it was all interesting. She had so much to say.

My favourites? The Sperss (formerly a Barolo, but no longer as it contains 6% barbera these days) was blindingly complex and endlessly fascinating. AUD $417 well spent. The 2011 Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino (AUD $122) was a wonderful wine, loaded with character and charm: a wine I wanted to drink, and relatively speaking, great value. The 2013 Barbaresco (AUD $318) was lovely, but the 2012 Dagromis Barolo (AUD $136) was disappointing.

I wasn’t so enamoured of Gaja’s Bolgheri (Tuscany) blends of the Bordeaux red varieties under the Ca’ Marcanda label. At AUD $253 for the Camarcanda Bolgheri Rosso and AUD $91 for the Magari Bolgheri, they were good but didn’t strike me as worth a detour.

And the two dry whites mentioned earlier? The prices don’t bear any relation to the real world. I really liked the Alteni di Brassica Sauvignon Blanc, but AUD $245 a bottle?

Perhaps this is why the house of Gaja has recently changed importers, moving from long-time agent Negociants Australia to Twelve Bottles. Good luck selling those, guys!

At their best, Gaja wines are spell-binding, at least, disappointing, but never cheap.

Bruno Rocca has also joined the big hitters with the first release of its Barbaresco Riserva Currà 2012 (AUD $344), which is a magnificent wine. Not far behind it is the 2014 Barbaresco Cru Rabajà (AUD $176), and the 2014 Barbaresco normale (AUD $108) is also delish. These are top wines from famous vineyards but there is also some terrific value in the Bruno Rocca stable. For instance, the 2015 Dolcetto d’Alba Trifolé at AUD $35 and 2015 Barbera d’Alba (AUD $58) are lovely wines and good value.

But let’s not mince words, these are wines for current drinking and shouldn’t be compared to great Barolo or Barbaresco. The top nebbiolos from the Langhe are among the greatest wines of the world. Wines of mesmerizing beauty. Whether they’re worth the price depends on your pocket and your own thinking. If I could be guaranteed a great experience every time, I’d say they’re worth the money. But that’s an ‘if’.

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