New Cru, Who Dis?
Vajra's Got Sand
Soil is important in vineyards. You probably know this. In reading about wine, over and over, you'll find mention of rocks, chalks, loams, clays, and gravels, sands and marls, alluvium and colluvium, beds and deposits... the permutations of soil on Earth are seemingly infinite, and the arrangement of soil components in vineyard sites has long been the subject of human interest.
Clay and limestone, especially when together, have tons of cred. Deep gravel beds are hallowed. All glory be the extraordinarily rocky slope with nary a trace of humus. Chalk (true chalk) is pure magic (read: science). Wine writing has practically canonized soils known for having the potential to produce concentrated wines. Concentration can be good, but is it always the best?
Early on in exploring the world of wine, I would perk up at the mention of limestone or particularly rocky soils, having read about their importance to so many great wines. Sand, on the other hand, a soil component associated with softer and lighter styles of wine, was something I know I gained appreciation for through tasting, rather than literature. For years, I thought that I might prefer to avoid wines made from grapes grown on sandy soils, as I was sure I wanted more concentration than sand would provide. Who would want less wine? That was pretty much my feeling about sand. I knew that certain great wines were made on very sandy sites, but they were exceptions. I remember actually being disappointed when I found out that one of my favorite wines, Monprivato, was from a sandy site!
But that revelation was the beginning of something. I didn't love Monprivato for its power and heft, I loved it for its beautiful floral lift and silky tannins. Why was I not looking for more sand right away? It took years, and a lot of tasting, but now any mention of sand has me rapt. Doesn't always pan out, soil doesn't make the wine, but now at least I know you can really strike gold.
Enter Vajra's new cru, the sandy Coste di Rose vineyard. They began renting the site in 2015, and purchased it in 2018. Home to the Arenarie di Diano soil type, which is found in many of Barolo's most esteemed sites, Coste di Rose is over 50% sand and has the lowest calcium carbonate levels of any soil in the region, that is, less limestone. If it had been farmed in recent memory by gifted winemakers such as the Vaira family, the Coste di Rose cru might lay claim to far more distinction. Vajra is calling it "one of Barolo's best kept secrets" and we can't wait to see what they do with it in the future!
Vajra's 2015 Coste di Rose is simply gorgeous, and among the most elegant Barolo I've ever tasted. A standout in their lineup of 2015 Barolo, it is also less expensive than their other crus. Out of their 2015 Barolo, tasted in August, I took particular note of three wines: their entry-level blend and two crus, Coste di Rose and Baudana. The blend, called 'Albe', is one of the most delicious young Barolos I've ever encountered, though it ought to hold its own for at least a decade. Coste di Rose was supremely elegant, while Baudana was almost over the top in its richness. Across the board, in any vintage, to be consumed old or young, Vajra is constant; if you like wine, you should love Vajra.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2015 Lots of lift and perfume. Red cherry, dried mushrooms, balsam wood, clay and roses. Some dried fruit character, but quite bright nonetheless. Elegant and long. Really easy-going today, a delight to drink. You can hold it for 10+ years too.
G. D. Vajra Barolo Coste di Rose 2015
Rich red fruits and perfect roses. Red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, clay, roses, fennel. This is very lifted and aromatic. Tannins are delicate but firm, almost silky, but it will need a little time to get there. Truly distinctive, this is a Barolo with great finesse and precision.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2015
Rich and exotic nose, a little bit of a toasted and roasted quality. Dark cherry, plum strawberry, violets, licorice, clay and dried mushrooms. Full and textured. Lots of tannin and texture, but way too young and will need 10 years to soften properly. Excellent and classic.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2015
Closed and tight. Cherry, spice, licorice, little bit of roses. Powerful, dense and young. Lots of potential but really needs time.
Baudana Barolo Cerretta 2015
The Vaira family took over farming and wine-making at this small Serralunga estate in 2009. Every vintage since has been fabulous. Rich and fruity nose. Red and black fruits, a wide spectrum. Bit of a liqueur-like quality to the fruitiness. Velvety tannins grip hard. Rather aggressive structure but overall in great balance. Gorgeous, really, for young Serralunga. Give it time though, at least 5 years.
Baudana Barolo Baudana 2015
From the estate's eponymous cru comes a powerful Barolo. Explosive and exotic nose. Just jam packed with fruit, spice and flowers. There's a touch of a roasted and toasted quality, which melds nicely with its classic tar and rose notes. Very textured and deep on the palate. Tons of tannin and incredible length. This is striking and powerful. It needs 10+ years though. Giuseppe Vaira says "iron oxide in the soil is like a distortion pedal" and the snarl of this young Serralunga seems to illustrate this idea perfectly; quite different from the precise notes of the Coste di Rose, which ring clear and high, more like a violin.