It's been a little over a year now since I last had the chance to meet up with Giuseppe Vajra and to taste through a range of his family's wines in formal fashion. It was great to see him, a pleasure I hope will be repeated before long. As always, it's pleasure of a different sort to drink – not just taste – the Vajras' wines in a more relaxed setting. I did just that over the course of two nights last week, savoring a bottle of Vajra's 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo with two very simple and drastically different midweek meals. Giuseppe's description of the wine, not of how it tastes but rather of how it served him and his college roommates through many a communal meal, stuck with me as I savored every last drop from the bottle. You'll forgive me, I hope, for quoting from the archives:
This was Giuseppe’s go-to “college wine” during the past year, what he poured for his roommates at University to help compensate for his lack of cooking abilities. A great food wine it is. Although in my experience this wine can age better than most “basic” Langhe Nebbiolo, G. recommends drinking it in its first three-to-four years for maximum enjoyment. This is Nebbiolo fermented and aged only in steel, produced primarily from fruit grown in a southwest-facing parcel called “Gesso” located at the foot of Bricco delle Viole and from the young vines in the Vajra’s recently acquired property in Sinio, just outside of the Barolo zone on the outskirts of Serralunga d’Alba. The wine is in a great spot right now, full of violet, rose petal and red licorice aromas. Finely detailed and long on the palate. No lack of nuance. Every bit a fine example of a “poor man’s Barolo.”Langhe Nebbiolo, G.D. Vajra 2006
$26. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Over a year later, the 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo is still showing beautifully, even young, much as I'd suggested in my original note. When first opened and poured it was quite tight, showing firm grip and slightly chalky tannins wrapped around a core of bright red fruit with classic overtones of licorice and tar.
In the past, I've found suppler styles of Langhe Nebbiolo – such as those from Vajra, Elio Grasso and Produttori del Barbaresco, to name a few – to pair quite well with dishes that mesh sweet and savory elements. I'm thinking in particular of pumpkin tortellini or ravioli sauced with sage brown butter. On this night, I took that idea to another step, drinking the wine alongside a rather spontaneous "use up what's in the kitchen" hash of roasted potatoes, apples and Italian-style sausage. On this night, the match wasn't perfect, the grippy structure and taut fruit proved a bit too stern for the food. But that hardly kept me from enjoying the wine.
Twenty-four hours later, the wine had come into a much sweeter spot, opening to reveal more seductive aromas, more generous textures and more relaxed fruit. Paired with an even simpler dish of penne, cheese and peas, the wine took on a whole other dimension. It was one of those pairings that actually adds a layer of pleasure to both the wine and the food. I know one tends to think of meat, or perhaps an end-of-meal cheese course, with Nebbiolo-based wines. I do love this with pork. But over the years, I've found it can work quite admirably with salmon (heresy, I know) and that it sometimes takes nothing more than a dish full of toothsome pasta to match the wine's tension – and to remove any sense of tension from those partaking of it.
Sadly, this was my last bottle of the '2006. When the '07 finally comes ashore, I'll seriously have to consider gobbling up a case.
- I knew in the back of my mind while writing this that Giuseppe had recently traveled through the southern Mid-Atlantic on one of his seasonal US pilgrimages. You'll find a nice write-up on the full range of Vajra's current releases courtesy of John Witherspoon at Anything Wine.
- It's nearly impossible for me to write about one of my favorite Nebbiolo producers, Vajra, without thinking of my friend Dr. Parzen's ongoing love affair with the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco. It's sheer coincidence, however, that not long after I wrote this morning's missive, Jeremy penned one of his usually brilliant pieces, laced with literary and historical detail, on Cavour's impact on the history of Piedmontese wine. Read there or be square.