Saturday, March 15, 2014

Antigua Bound

The scheme of taking our Dinner Club on the road materialized after many bottles of wine and a more modest road trip to Tyrant's new digs on Salt Spring Island a couple of years back. Since we'd managed a weekend jaunt across the water to Tyrant's, I threw out the idea of everyone traipsing down to Jeaux and Matinder's winter home in Antigua since they now spend four to five months of the year there now - thus causing a major hiatus in our dinner plans.

Well, it was finally time to catch our flight to the Caribbean and Elzee agreed to take us out to the airport. In return for her graciousness, we figured we could take her out for dinner first since we didn't have to be at the airport until about 9 pm. With a couple of options on the table, we ultimately chose Campagnolo Roma as Elzee hadn't been before.

With this essentially being the start of our vacation, I reckoned we might as well start it off with a bit of a bang. Angelo Gaja may be acknowledged as one of Italy's (if not the world's) greatest winemakers  and Boo and I may have strolled by the Gaja winery years ago (we didn't have an appointment to actually visit) but I've never had one of his wines.

Tonight seemed as good a time as any to start.

1549.  2005 Dagromis Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

Angelo Gaja is a fourth generation Piedmontese winemaker and he's grabbed huge scores for his wines. Indeed, in October 2011, Wine Spectator published a feature article about him and stated that "he has helped change the global image of Italian wine." As a result, Gaja has garnered prices upwards of $400 a bottle for his premium wines. (BTW, this isn't one of those "premium" wines. It was only $70 in the liquor store. We went BYO tonight.)

Since he started taking a larger role in the family business, Gaja has been an innovator in Piedmont. Examples of his handiwork involve the pioneering of single vineyard wines in the region and the introduction of French barriques (225-litre oak barrels) for aging his wines. He also raised eyebrows of contemporaries - and even his father - when he planted the region's first Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc. Despite the introduction of international grape varieties, Gaja has continued to emphasize traditional grapes - particularly Nebbiolo.

Gaja's Barbaresco's may garner higher prices, but the winery still produces this Barolo, made, as required by appellation laws, from 100% Nebbiolo. This is a modern man's Barolo however. The wine is marketed as being approachable as a young wine and, it's true, the wine is aromatic and the fruit isn't overshadowed by tannins. In an attempt to make the wine more accessible without years of aging, it is initially vinified in stainless steel, then matured in barriques for 12 months and finished off for another 18 months in the bigger and more traditional oak botti.

We were quite surprised - and very pleasantly at that - by how easy drinking the wine was with our salumi, antipasti and pizza. I'm used to regularly scraping the tannins off my teeth after every sip of a Barolo but not tonight - and this bottle was still relatively young. Well, at least until we'd finished off the pizza and had a bit of wine left to finish off on its own, without food. It was as if we'd opened an entirely different bottle and the tannins jumped to the front and centre.

If there was ever evidence of how different a wine can be with and without food, this was it. We might not have been nearly as effusive had we finished off the bottle without food. Luckily, that wasn't the case and we had a superb start to the vacation.

And a plane to catch.

Here's to the good times to come.

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