With over 160 years of winemaking history and a vision to position their wines at the top of the market, Gaja remains a firm favourite with the wine loving community in Hong Kong if the recent Altaya Launch Party is anything to go by.
Live music, a dress theme of black and white and being located in the Azure bar in LKF set the tone of the evening – and what a treat we were in for. Gaia Gaja and Paulo Pong, Managing Director of Altaya Wines, joined the celebrations to herald the beginning of a new alliance.
Gaia Gaja addressing the attendees at the Gaja and Altaya Wines Launch Party
Back in the mid nineteenth century, the establishment of a small family tavern where they poured their own wine to accompany food signaled the start of a wine making empire that has continued to grow throughout the decades. Innovation and a steely determination to position their wine appropriately characterise the Gaja family, whether it be bottling their wines for troops in Abyssinia at the end of the nineteenth century – very unusual at the time, and particularly for Langhe where bottling wine for transportation beyond local borders was not commonly done until the 1960’s; or purchasing significant parcels of land throughout a region yet to be known by reputation – Barbaresco DOCG; or bringing modern winery techniques to a region known for its traditional preferences. The result of such dedication and determination is their continued success and longevity, something more and more challenging in this ever crowded world of wine.
Perhaps the most well know figure from the Gaja family in today’s world is Angelo Gaja (Gaia Gaja’s father), a charismatic and snappily dressed man who travelled widely and absorbed all that was happening with modern winemaking techniques. All the while remaining focused on the goal of elevating the world’s view of Barbaresco through total dedication to uncompromising quality. 
In speaking about her family wines, Gaia Gaja stressed that the guiding principle was to “work for yourself and for the next generation” and it was with this in mind that the family expanded their operations from Piedmont to Tuscany. In 1994 Gaja acquired Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino, followed by Ca’Marcanda in the Bolgheri district in 1996. Gaia also spoke of the importance of history and that “every detail of the history of the ground” must be captured and preserved in the wine. She describes her relationship with wine as “the memory of place” – a sentiment I discussed in a previous post on the different relationships we have with wine.
With such an extraordinary selection of wines from Gaja on tasting it was easy to be overwhelmed but as I tasted during the night I found two wines in particular caught my attention – and, much to my delight one is from the original Gaja region of Piedmont and the other from Tuscany. (A full list of the wines tasted can be found at the end of this article.)
The Sperss 2004 is an elegant wine. The mouth feel and structure clearly displaying its pedigree. A nose of elegance was the first indication of what was to come with flavours of black fruits like blackcurrant, black plums and blackberries alongside liquorice and aniseed as well as notes of graphite all coming together to speak of where the wine comes from.
The Sperss is an interesting wine because the Gaja family discontinued making this Barolo in 1961 following a decision to produce wines only from estate owned vineyards. Prior to 1961 the grapes had been bought from the vineyard in Serralunga. In 1988 the Gaja family was able to purchase the vineyard and began producing this Barolo again.
The word Sperss means “nostalgia” in Piedmontese – rather fitting given a return to Barolo for the family but perhaps it could also applied to the blend used from this 30-acre vineyard. Traditionally Nebbiolo was blended with a touch of Barbera to balance acidity and add colour. Under the regulations governing DOCG classification (the highest status in the Italian system) you are not permitted to add anything to the Nebbiolo from Barolo or Barbaresco if you wish to add the letters DOCG to the label. Subsequently the Sperss at 94% Nebbiolo and 6% Barbera is classified as Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, a classification used for all declassified Barolo and Barbaresco and for wines containing up to 15% of a “foreign” grape – very confusing for the consumer!
My other standout of the night was a magnum of Magari 2005 which hails from the Bolgheri region in Tuscany. Very different to the Sperss, most obviously because it is a blend of “foreign” grapes with 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. The nose of red fruits and spice together with forest floor and some notes of farmyard followed through on the palate where I tasted red and black plums and cherries, black pepper, red liquorice and graphite. This was very approachable and certainly very easy to drink!
While there are one or two wines at comparatively lower prices, the Magari being one of them, the majority of wines are in keeping with the Gaja family vision – a premium product of luxury and exclusivity. However, if you find yourself with the perfect excuse for a special bottle, this would be just the ticket!
(Bottle shots and vineyard image kindly supplied by Sinclair Communications)
Related Happy Wine Woman Posts – Italy
Magari 2005 magnum
Pieve Santa Restituta
Brunello di Montalcino 2008
Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2011
Sito Moresco 2010
Dagromis Barolo 2006
Costa Russi 2006
Sorì Tildìn 2006
Sorì San Lorenzo 2006
Where Can You Get These Wines?
Press Materials provided by Sinclair Communications and Altaya Wines
Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2010). Grapes & Wines. A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Incl
Johnson, H. & Robinson, J. (2007). The World Atlas of Wine. Great Britain: Mitchell Beazley.
Robinson, J. (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.
Stevenson, T. (2011). The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. New York: DK Publishing.