Angelo Gaja certainly has been quite the controversial figure in his neck of the woods & for many reasons. Still, he certainly has brought Italian nebbiolo to the world-class stage (with a huge cross over potential for Cabernet & Bordeaux drinkers) AND set the pace for top echelon prices & therefore a completely new standard for quality. The wine media have, for the most part, enthusiastically jumped on to the fast moving Gaja train, which is reflected by the perennial big scores & high praise. One would have thought with such a high profile meteoric rise to superstardom, there would have been a hitch, stall, or some kind of decline along the way. No such thing. The Gaja Piemontese train seems to be running at full steam & these 3 wines showed why.
Gaja produced some interesting red wines in the 90’s. I was, however, apprehensive about how his showy, flambouyant style would do in a big, ripe vintage like 1997. I knew the press would certainly love the wines, I just wondered if I would. Furthermore, I had recently had the 1998 & found it to be quite closed down & a shame to have opened the bottle at this atge of its life. It is so intense with a massive structure & quite a tannic grip. The 1997 in comparison, although also quite closed, is decidedly riper, with much more lavish, opulent fruit (MUCH rounder) & darker base notes than the 1998. A very powerful, mega-concentrated red which, in this case, can be quite the cross over wine for avid Bordeaux & California Cabernet collectors. You will be thrilled with this one, that’s for sure!
“Gaja’s Conteisa, although the grapes are grown in the Barolo appellation, is classified as Langhe DOC due to the 8% Barbera that is added to the Nebbiolo. Much to the chagrin of the local cognoscenti, Angelo believes the Barbera addition adds acidity and freshness to the wine. He also firmly states that this is no indication of a trend towards making Super Piemonte wines and his relatively new approach is used only in vintages that merit the addition. The wine is named for the medieval ‘conteisa,’ or quarrel, between the zones of La Morra and Barolo over the prime vineyard land of Cerequio“. Quite a different take on Nebbiolo than what I had previously experienced through his Barbaresco–seemingly more masculine, muskier & leaner. I have not had many Conteisa, so cannot make any broader statements, but will say I don’t think this 1997, as resounding as it is, is of Grand Cru kind of quality, at least in its youth.
I liked this wine alot. I remember thinking upon release how tight fisted, seemingly lean & mouth puckering this wine was. It has really started to open up again, even in comparison to 5 years ago when I last had it. It is pretty, has enticing perfume, wonderful fruit, structure & balance, done with class & superb craftsmanship.