Category Archives: Gaja

Tasting Gaja Wines at La Pizza Fresca NYC

Recently La Pizza Fresca Ristorante in NYC celebrated its 20th anniversary. The restaurant was one of the very first in the city to serve genuine Neapolitan style pizzas and it has one of the best wine lists in the city. Brad Bonnewell, the owner, created the list and he often hosts wine dinners at the restaurant.

I have been going there since it first opened and recently Brad invited me to a dinner featuring the Barbaresco of Angelo Gaja.

Representing the winery was the charming and knowledgeable Giovanni Gaja, Angelo’s son. I was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Giovanni and therefore could ask him a number of questions.

Giovanni is 24 years old and most of the wines we tasted were older then him. He is the youngest child and his youngest sister is 14 years older than him. He joked that it was like growing up with 3 mothers.

I asked Giovanni what changes occurred to the single vineyard Barbaresco in the last few years. Giovanni told me that he and his sisters, Gaia and Rossana had a discussion with their father Angelo about the single vineyard Barbaresco. He emphasized that it was a discussion and not and argument or a fight.

Giovanni Gaja

Angelo’s children convinced him to return to 100% Nebbiolo for the Costa Russi, Sori Tilden and Sori San Lorenzo. Giovanni said that before the DOC (1966) laws Barbaresco could contain other grapes, predominantly Barbera. So Angelo had detached the wines from the DOC appellation in order to produce them as they were in the past. Beginning with the 1996 vintage Angelo Gaja used 15% Barbera in these wines.

Giovanni said every generation has the right to do things in their own way.

So from the 2013 vintage their single vineyard wines are 100% Nebbiolo.

He added they have the full support of their father, and “We can now pursue the pure expression of the Nebbiolo grape once again.”

Giovanni said that Angelo had joined his father in the winery in 1961. In 1978 he changed Barbaresco forever with the introduction of barriques and other new techniques. We can only imagine what Angelo’s father thought of this and of his planting of international grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. That same year, Angelo took a prime Nebbiolo site and planted it with Cabernet Sauvignon. Legend has it that when Angelo’s father passed the Cabernet vineyard he would mutter “Damagi,” meaning “what a shame or a pity,” or “Damn It” and so the vineyard came to be called Damagi.

So Giovanni and his sisters were just following in their footsteps of their father by doing things the way they wanted. I asked Giovanni if the regular Barbaresco was made the same way today as it was when Angelo took over in 1978. His answer was “yes” adding that they still use a combination of barriques and large barrels (botti).

Giovanni explained in detail about the 6 wines we tasted. “Barbaresco is the wine that we have always been producing for 5 generations. It is a blend of 14 different vineyards of Nebbiolo mainly located in the Barbaresco area and a small parcel in the Treiso area at an altitude ranging from 250m to 330m covering an area of 21.4 hectares. Each vineyard undergoes fermentation and maceration separately and we let fermentation take its course. According to the vintage, it can take longer or shorter period of time. After fermentation, the wine from each vineyard ages one year separately in small French oak barrels, mostly used and a small part new oak. Usually the ratio is 80% used and 20% new. After one year the wines are blended together and undergo a further year of aging in big barrels. Finally, the wines are bottled and spend a further period of aging in bottle before being released on the market to let the wine settle and balance.”

The regular Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo. Here are the wines we tasted:

Barbaresco 1988 — the bottle that we had seemed a little tired for its age. There was a discussion at the table and someone said they had a bottle of the 1988 recently and it was fine. We just got an off bottle. The aromas on all of the other wines were classic Nebbiolo with hints of black cherry, violets, blackberries, tobacco, leather and tea.

Barbaresco 1990 — for me was the wine of the tasting.

Barbaresco 1993 — was not a great vintage for Barolo but the wine was showing very well and will last for a few more years.

Barbaresco 1997 — was showing very well and most of the people at the table liked this wine along with the 1990.

Barbareso 2000 — this vintage got mixed reviews but Gaja produced a very good wine.

Barbaresco 2013 — this wine needed more time but has great potential.

pasta, sausage, saffron and parmigiano reggianp

With the wine we had Carpaccio di Manzo, Paccheri Zafferano con Salsiccia, Pizza Margherita, Pizza Savoia and Tortelli di Vitello.


Filed under Barbaresco, Gaja

A Thanksgiving with a Difference

Sometimes Michele makes a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and sometimes she cooks something completely different. This time it was completely different

We started with smoked duck breast, cashew nuts, green olives and foie gras on toast with fig jam.img_1861

For an aperitivo, we drank a Franciacorta Bellavista Grand Cuvèe Brut 1989 Classic Champagne Method. The wine today is made from 80% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Bianco but I do not know what the blend was in 1989 and they have since changed all their labels and the names of the sparkling wine.img_1865

The next wine was a Champagne Blason de France Perrier-Jouèt, A Epernay Brut Rose NV Prestige Cuvèe. Made from 50% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier and 25% Chardonnay. The dosage: 10g/l and it matures for at least 3 years in the house cellars. This is a powerful wine with a distinctive flavor, roundness, hints of red fruit and a touch of brioche. I do not know how old it was but I do know this label is not used anymore. It was a perfect combination with the foie gras and fig jam.img_1875

The next course was mushroom soup made with chanterelles and other mushrooms, a splash of Cognac and finished with cream.

We began with the Roero Arneis 2001 from Bruno Giacosa. Made from 100% Arneis. The wine was showing very well. It had a depth of aromas and flavors that one would not expect from a 15 year old white wine. I was not surprised because I had the 1974 a few years ago and it was showing very well.img_1869

Volnay 1er Cru “Les Santenots” 1972 Domaine Potinet Ampeau. At a dinner with such remarkable older wines this was my favorite. It was all one could ask for from a Burgundy.img_1860

Our main course was a pork loin roast stuffed with mortadella, accompanied by a potato and Fontina gratin prepared by one of the guests, green beans with Parmigiano Reggiano and Brussels sprouts with pancetta and walnuts from Michele’s book, The Italian Vegetable Cookbook.img_1879

With it, we had the Vino Nebbiolo Sori Del Turco 1971 from Gaja. Angelo Gaja’s father made the wine. I would think it was 100% Nebbiolo but back then they often added Barbera to the blend. This is a classic wine with all the aromas and flavors of the Langhe.img_1871

We finished the main course and the cheese course with a magnum of Villa Antinori Chianti Classico 1964.

The wine was in excellent condition which did not surprise me because I had the Antinori Chianti Classico 1943 not too long ago. So much for those who say Sangiovese does not age. Sheldon Wasserman in his classic book “The Noble Red Wines of Italy” has a tasting note dated 1/83 on the magnum. He gives it one star and says it might be drying out. He was wrong. This is a wine with body and hints of cherry and blueberry, Chianti Classico just the way I like them.

Our dessert was roasted chestnuts and fresh fruit, followed by an airy pumpkin chiffon pie prepared by our friend Diane Darrow for the recipe

We finished the meal with Romano Levi Grappa and cafè.


Filed under Antinori, Arneis, Bellavista, Champagne, French Wine, Gaja, Italian Red Wine, Italian White Wine, Nebbiolo 1971 Gaja, Perrier- Jouet Blason de France, The Italian Vegetable Cookbook, Volnay 1er Cru Les Santenots Domaine Potinet Ampeau

Barolo and Pizza at La Pizza Fresca

One of my favorite Barolo and pizza memories is from 1985.  Michele and I visited Alfredo and Luciana Currado, owners of the Vietti winery with Mary Ewing Mulligan MW and Ed McCarthy. A Neapolitan man had opened a pizzeria a few doors away from their winery and they wanted us to try it.  Their whole family joined us.  The pizza was very good especially the one made with Fontina Val D’Aosta cheese and porcini mushrooms.  Alfredo brought a magnum of 1961 Barolo and he very proudly told us that this was the first wine that he had made.  The wine was great with the pizza.  From then on, I was hooked on pizza and Barolo.IMG_4540

Just before Christmas, Brad Bonnewell, owner of La Pizza Fresca in NYC, inviting me to a Barolo and pizza dinner a few days after Christmas and I had to accept. IMG_4543

With the pizza there were two flights of Barolo, five from the 1997 vintage and five from the 1998 vintage.  It was a blind tasting.

The Vintage

Some wine writers called the 1997 vintage Barolo “The Vintage of the Century”.  It was given ratings in the high 90’s by the better- know wine writers. It was also rated a five star vintage.

1998 did not get the same recognition or hype, though some rated it 4 stars. The 1997’s that we tasted were more fruit forward, riper, and richer with less acidity.  It seemed that they should be drunk before the 1998.

The 1998’s were subtler and with more of the tar, leather, tea and faded rose aromas that I like, so we drank the 1997’s first.

On another vintage note I would drink the 1997’s and 1998’s before the 1996’s, which I believe, is a great vintage like 1989.

1997 Vintage


Barolo – Bartolo Mascarello 100% Nebbiolo from 3 hectares of vineyards: Cannubi 1.5, Lorenzo 0.3, Rue 0.5 in the commune of Barolo and Rocche 1.2 in the commune of La Morra. The vineyards are between 3 and 50 years old. This is the most traditional producer of Barolo and it is a classic old style wine. The Barolo is a blend of all the vineyards, the way it was done in the past before the other producers took up the “French Cru” designation. I have had these wines a number of times and they are usually among my favorites, however this night they were not showing well. The two bottles we opened might have been slightly corked, hiding the aroma and flavors of the wine. Brad said he had a case of the wine and the others he had opened had the same problem.


Langhe Nebbiolo ConteisaAngelo Gaja.   Mostly Nebbiolo with a little Barbera. Fermentation is on the skins in stainless steel tanks for 3 weeks. The wine is aged in barriques for 12 months followed by 12 months in large oak barrels. This is a well-made wine with less vanilla, oak aromas and flavors then I remember. Still, it is a little too modern for me.


Barolo Grand Bussia Riserva – Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo: Michel and Lampia varieties. Grapes come from 3 different vineyards (Bussia, Monforte d’Alba). The grapes are hand harvested. The must remains in contact with the skins for 60 days, during which the alcoholic fermentation is fully completed. The wine is aged in large Slavonian oak casks for 32 months. The wine remains in the cellar for at least 8 years before release. Only in the best vintages is this wine made. I have not tasted this wine in a long time and it was showing very well with all the true Nebbiolo characteristics.

Barolo Cascina Francia – Giacomo Conterno 100% Nebbiolo from Serralunga’s Cascina Francia vineyard. The exposure is south/southwest and the soil is calcareous limestone. They use wooden vats with regular breaking-up of the cap. The wine is aged for 4 years in large oak barrels. This is classic, traditional Barolo at its best.

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Barolo – Parussi 100% Nebbiolo.  The grapes come from Monforte d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto. There are 5,000 plants/hectare, with south/southeast and southwest exposure and the grapes are hand harvested. Destemming of the grapes and then maceration on the skins. Alcoholic fermentation occurs spontaneously with indigenous yeasts without the use of sulfites. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 24 months in contact with its native yeast and 6 months in bottle before release.

1998 Vintage


Barolo Azienda Agricola Falletto of Bruno Giacosa, 100% Nebbiolo. The grapes for the Falletto wines are all estate grown. He uses traditional wine making methods. This is a wine with hints of liquorice, spice and tea. I like Giacosa’s Barolo but  would rather drink his Barbaresco.


Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra – Domenico Clerico 100% Nebbiolo The vineyard is at 400 meters and the exposure is south/southwest. Maceration on the skins in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for 12/14 days. Aged in French oak barriques, 90% new for 22/24 months and 6/8 months in bottle before release. This was the most modern style wine in the tasting with a lot of vanilla and oak.


 Barolo Cereqiuo- Roberto Voerzio 100% Nebbiolo There are 4,000 to 5,000 plants per hectare and the vineyard faces south/southeast. Fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine is aged for 24 months in used barriques and 20hl casks. Then 8 months in stainless steel and 8 months in bottle before release.This is another wine that I have not tasted in a long time but it was less modern then I expected.


 Barolo Bric del Fiasc cru: Castiglione Falletto (Fiasco) – Paolo Scavino 100% Nebbiolo. Destemming and light crushing takes place and maceration and fermentation is in stainless steel tanks. Indigenous yeast is used and malolactic fermentation takes place in oak for 10 months. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 10 to14 months in large casks, 1 year in stainless steel and 10 months in bottle before release. This was the second most modern wine.


 Barolo Cascina Francia – Giacomo  Conterno 100% Nebbiolo from Serralunga’s Cascina Francia vineyard. The exposure is south/southwest and the soil is calcareous limestone. They use wooden vats with regular breaking-up of the cap. The wine is aged for 4 years in large oak barrels. This is classic, traditional Barolo at its best. The 1998 was my number one wine and the 1997 was my number two wine. They also went the best with the pizza.

 Brunello di Montalcino 1997Mastrojanni. This has always been one of my favorite producers and when Brad asked what else he could open, this was my suggestion. Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso. It is aged 3 years in Allier oak barrels of various sizes – 15, 33 and 54 hectoliters and then aged for 6/8 months in bottle before release. The wine has aromas and flavors of ripe black and red berries with a hint of spice and tobacco. There was even more hype for the 1997 vintage for Brunello than for the Barolo.

Maculan 1990 Dindarello La Pizza Fresca Ristorante NYC 12-27-13

 We ended with the dessert wine, Dindarello 1990 from Maculan. 100% Moscato from the 6 acre Dindarello vineyard on the estate.The grapes are dried for about a month, then fermented in stainless steel and aged another three months in bottle before release. This is an excellent dessert wine with hints of honey, tropical fruit and good acidity.Barolo 1997 & 1998 Dinner La Pizza Fresca Ristorante NYC 12-27-13

In all, there were 16 wines at the tasting, but the 12  listed were the ones I remember drinking.  I enjoyed Brad’s hospitality and the wine and pizza.  I also enjoyed remembering my friend and a great winemaker, Alfredo Currado.


Filed under Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Bartolo Mascarello, Brunello, Bruno Giacosa, Dindarello, Domenico Clerico, Gaja, Giacomo Conterno, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Maculan, Mastrojanni Brunello, Paolo Scavino, Parusso, Roberto Voerzio

A Special Lunch With Friends

I always enjoy visiting my friends Louise and Ernie.  Louise is an excellent cook, and Ernie has a great collection of wines but most importantly, we really enjoy their company.  Conversation never seems to end and we always have a lot of fun.IMG_2644
On our most recent visit, the first two courses were  prepared by their 17-year-old grandson, Steven, who has been interested in cooking and eating well since he was a young child.  While Steven was in the kitchen preparing, we were in the living room drinking Champagne Roses Jeanne Blanc de Noirs 2008 Cédric Bouchard, a perfect way to begin the afternoon.IMG_2636
With Steven’s first course, sparkling fresh sushi with watermelon and yuzu, Ernie switched to the Champagne Roses Jeanne Blanc de Blancs    2008 Cédric Bouchard. The champagnes from this producer always impress me.  I believe he only produces single vintage, single vineyard wines and that they are fermented and aged in stainless steel and the winemaker interferes in the process as little as possible.  The bubbles were very small and it had a crisp, fresh taste with subtle citrus fruit flavors that would make it go very well with food.  This producer also makes a Champagne from 100% Pinot Blanc!  The fresh flavors of the sushi were a perfect compliment to this Champagne.IMG_2637
With the arrival of the red wines came our next course,  pappardelle with black truffles.  The pappardelle were cooked perfectly, coated with sweet butter and blanketed with shavings of aromatic truffles.  We savored every bite and thanked Steven for the delicious starters, sad to see that he had leave for his volunteer job at a charity kitchen.  IMG_2639Santenay Gravier 1985 Jessiaume Pere & Fils. 100% Pinot Noir. The vineyard is 4.76 hectares and the soil is hard limestone enriched with marl. The wine is aged for 12 to 15 months oak barrels, 20% new, then 5 months finishing is stainless steel bulk tanks before bottling.
It is a very elegant wine and very easy to drink.IMG_2638

Barbaresco 1978 Gaja 100% Nebbiolo was or next wine.  According to Wasserman’s Italy’s Noble Red Wines, Angelo Gaja had been experimenting with barriques in 1969. By 1976 he was in charge of the winery and began to use new techniques such as, shorter fermentation (two weeks or less), and adding 40 to 70% whole berries to the fermentation must for fruitiness and to balance the tannins and oakieness from the barriques. The 1979’s were the first wines made entirely in the new style.

A few years ago at La Pizza Fresco in NYC I was fortunate to drink the 1978,1979 and 1982 side by side. There was a marked difference in the wines. The latter two wines were more concentrated and the oakieness had taken hold. They were a different style of wine.
This 1978 is a great wine showing very few signs of age, with black fruit aromas and flavors and hints of leather and balsamic. 1978 was a great vintage.IMG_2642

Our main course was a tender and juicy chicken breast stuffed with Fontina  Valle d’Aosta prepared by Louise.
With it, we drank Barolo Riserva “Vigna Rionda Di Serralunga” 1982 Cantine Duca d’Asti, Michele Chiarlo. Made from 100% Nebbiolo (Lampia and Michet sub-varieties) Wasserman in Italy’s Noble Red Wines gives the vintage his highest rating: 4 stars. When it comes to Barolo I always felt this winery was underrated because it is better known for its Barbera and Moscato di Asti.  This is classic traditional Barolo with dark fruit and hints of leather and tea showing no signs of aging. I do not believe they make this Barolo today.IMG_2643

Eselshaut Mussbacher Rieslaner Beerenauslese 1990  Muller Catoir. This was a very interesting dessert wine. It was not very sweet and had hints of apricot, peach and a touch of orange and went very well with the dessert, pear tart with sicilian orange mamelade and whipped cream.

Watch for Michele and I on WNYC channel 25 at SD26 for i-italy|tv Saturday at 11PM and Sunday at 1PM or catch us on line.

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Filed under Barbaresco, Barolo, Burgundy, Cedric Bouchard, Champagne, French Red, Gaja, German Wine, Italian Red Wine, Italian Wine, Michele Chiarlo