Saturday, November 10, 2012

Discovering a perfect wine at Cornucopia

The fortunate few who attended the recent Angelo Gaja winemaker dinner in Vancouver (I was not among them) will be marvelling for some time about the amazing quality of this Italian master’s wines.

At this year’s Cornucopia in Whistler, I encountered his Chardonnay. If I were scoring it for review, the Gaja ‘Gaia & Rey’ Chardonnay 2009 would score 100. This flawless wine, which retails for about $200 a bottle, was among a number of excellent wines served during a dinner at Araxi.

The dinner was appropriately called Big Guns. Consider the other wines that were also served: Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne; Casa Marin ‘Cipresses Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Chile;  Louis Jadot ‘Corton-Pougets’ Grand Cru 1999 from Burgundy; Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2010 from Sonoma; Antinori ‘Plan delle Vigne’ 2006 from Italy; and Fonseca Vintage 1985 Port from Portugal.

The only one that let the side down was the Louis Jadot Burgundy. It had the classic barnyard aroma that Burgundy fanciers love but, at 13 years of age, the fruit is drying out faster than the tannins are softening. In any event, the wine was upstaged by the pungent trifles that had been shaved over the roasted saddle of rabbit.

Samantha Rahn, the wine director at Araxi, and the chefs took special pains to pair the Gaja Chardonnay so that the power of the wine – which was double decanted in the afternoon – would neither diminish not overwhelm the accompanying food, smoked salmon in a shellfish broth.

This particular Chardonnay is not currently on the list in the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch. However, the LDB lists 18 other Gaja wines, most of them expensive reds, usually in limited quantity. The two largest listings by quantity are Barola Dagromis (500 bottles at $70 a bottle) and Brunello di Montalcino Pieve S Restituta (210 bottles at $73 a bottle).

The Chardonnay was the first white wine released by the Gaja winery. The Gaia & Rey vineyard, which was planted in 1979, is named for Angelo’s oldest daughter, Gaia, who has been taking over management of the business from her 72-year-old father.

The wine is all the more remarkable for being produced by a house that has long specialized in reds. Gaja is a legend in Piedmont winemaking. The premium commanded by the wines reflects his prestige – a prestige won by making wines that routinely score 90 plus by Robert Parker and other leading critics.

I don’t hold myself out as a leading critic. I just know when I have had an exceptional wine.


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