Class in a glass
Gaia Gaja from Italy talks about how distinct her family wines are
Photo: S. Thanthoni
Sip and tellGaia Gaja says that the days when you opened a bottle and found the wine dirty or bad are gone
Interestingly, she didn’t choose a chic business suit. Or a glamorous designer gown. She’s in a hip sort of harem-pants-meets-the-little-black-dress number instead. (“You just step into it and pull it up,” she grins.)
Her hair up in a high ponytail secured by a bright red scrunchie. And, as the only concession to her fabulous heritage, a pair of stunning diamond solitaires.
Gaia Gaja (“pronounced GUY-ah GUY-ah. It’s a musical name”) is clearly as distinctive as her family wines. The fifth generation of her family to work at the Gaja winery in Italy’s Piedmont region, she spends a lot of her time travelling around the world talking about her heritage and wine.
A convincing spokesperson for the value of individuality, she’s probably the best advertisement Gaja has.
Gaia discusseshow it’s difficult to get a bad wine in these days of professional mass production, says, “The days when you opened a bottle and found the wine dirty or bad are gone. Everyone from Chile to China now makes good wine.”
However, she adds, all these wines now taste the same. Producers who want to be commercial successes make commercial wine.
Which means they do a study of the market, discover exactly what people want in their glass and then work backwards, creating a wine.
Which for a family like Gaja, which has been carefully listening to their grapes since 1859, is heresy. Gaia talks of how their vineyards are divided into numerous little plots, respecting the fact that every different terrier will yield a different flavour.
For the Gajas wine should taste of the earth: the soil, the weather, the climate and even the history of the family that grows the grape.
So of course, they’re rather sentimental about each harvest. Sentimental enough to name a wine after their eldest daughter. “The vineyards were planted in 1979, which is the same year I was born,” she says, over a glass of the elegant white wine, Rossj-Bass. A chardonnay, this was named after her sister Rossana. (Gaia has another chardonnay named after her — Gaia and Rey.)
The Gajas clearly nurture individuality. Which seems to work with their children. And is definitely the only way to work with their central grape, the quirky Nebbiolo.
The grape which grows only in Italy is extremely sensitive and mercurial. “There are three things very loyal to our region,” says Gaia, “the white truffle, our special hazelnuts and Nebbiolo.”
At least two of these have become famous worldwide. The hazelnuts, because they gave rise to the well-loved chocolate paste Nutella, and the grape for one of Italy’s greatest red wines, the Barbaresco.
This historic flagship of the Gaja family is produced from 14 Nebbiolo vineyards, and named for the village of its origin.
Paired with Prego’s Chef Giovanna Marson’s simple, but delicious chicken stew, creamy mashed potatoes and mushroom and bright asparagus, the wine’s heady and flavoursome, aromatic with the hallmark Barbaresco nose of forest fruits, liquorice and plums.
All in the family
Meanwhile, Gaia’s showing us old family pictures. “That’s my grandmother,” she says, displaying a picture of a statuesque old lady smiling sternly for the camera.
“I think that’s the only time we saw her smile!” Today, the Gaja winery owns 250 acres of vineyards in Piedmont, making all their wine from their own grapes. About 80 per cent of it is exported to enthusiastic markets around the world.
Now, they clearly have every reason to smile.
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