G.D. Vajra Italian wines by Ian Brosnan

G.D. Vajra

This estate was established in 1972, by Aldo Vajra’s father, Giuseppe Domenico. The vineyards had been in the family since the 1920s, but it was only with the advent
of the D.O.C. and the increase in interest for Barolo in the early 1970s, that viticulture became economically viable. Aldo has gradually increased the area under vine to the current 40 hectares, ten of which are planted with Nebbiolo for his Barolo, located in such prized vineyards as Bricco delle Viole, Fossati, La Volta and Coste di Vergne.
The vineyards are situated about 400 metres above sea level in the village of Vergne, in the commune of Barolo, on the western border of the zone. Vajra’s vineyards ripen later than many others in the zone, with the result that his Barolos have always been quite distinctive: wines with fresh and lifted aromas, showing a judicious acidity that balances the generous fruit to give a lively and crisp style.

Aldo’s son Giuseppe was in ely winebar to host a tasting dinner, pairing their exceptional wines to our wonderful food!
We kicked things off with their unique Langhe Bianco ‘Petracine’ , an old Latin name for Riesling. A pale lemon colour, it had a wonderfully zesty perfume, crisp apple and lemon fruit and a long clean finish. A perfect way to begin any evening!

First of the reds was the Dolcetto, a grape Giuseppe suggested is often considered an ugly duckling in Piedmonte but he likes to think of it as a moody teenager- it needs constant attention and showering with love in order to fulfil its potential. This one certainly did – it possessed a wonderful depth of colour, a fragrance of blue and black berries and a herbal hint on the finish.

The Barbera grapes are sourced from 6 vineyards; in 3 areas on 2 different soil types, and it is the blend of these that gives this wine it exceptional balance. Fresh berry and black cherry on the nose, the palate is ripe with crisp acidity and elegant tannins. Both wines were tasted alongside a first course of rose Veal meatballs, tomato broth and gremolata. The room was split over which worked better, but at a push, I’d have to choose the Dolcetto (it might be the moody teenager in me!).

Then the main event – the ‘Le Albe’ and ‘Bricco delle Viole’ Barolos. The 2007 ‘Le Albe’ was unquestionably the ely staff pick of the night – yes, we all have to try them after work- and quite honestly one of the best value Barolos I have tasted in a long time. While 2007 may seem young for Barolo, the ‘Le Albe’ had a ruby-garnet colour and a wonderfully exotic nose of dried plums, cherries and floral notes. The palate showed typical Nebbiolo characteristics- excellent acidity and fine but persistent tannins- coupled with a rich, fleshy texture. More than simply accessible, this wine is extremely enjoyable now but no doubt has a long and bright future ahead.
The ‘Bricco delle Viole’ vineyard is the jewel in the crown of the Vajra properties, situated 400 metres above sea level in the commune of Barolo and with many of the vines over 50 years old. The altitude and long ripening period gives the wine an aromatic complexity and ripeness not often found in Barolo. We were fortunate enough to have the 2003; showing a beautiful garnet colour and a complex nose of violets, rose, orange peel and dark cherry. The finely grained tannins, wonderful purity and depth of flavour, and impeccable balance are all hallmarks of this superb wine. Both wines were paired with roast breast of Barbary Duck, potato and truffle terrine, samphire and Madeira jus.
And then came the surprise of the evening- Vajra Moscato d’asti. Light, effervescent and wonderfully fruity, this is one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted. Passion fruit on the nose, clean sweetness on the palate, and, at only 5.5% alcohol, no limit to how many glasses you can have. While we tasted it with orange blossom pannacotta, it could just as easily be enjoyed on its own, the perfect end to a remarkable meal.

Our thanks to Giuseppe Vajra and Ben Reynolds (Liberty Wines) from  for all their help.

Visit us at elywinebar.com

The importance of staff training in ely restaurants: understanding wine faults

Plumpton College June 2011

Plumpton College, near Brighton in the UK, is the only education institute in the UK and Ireland to offer winemaking courses. It has excellent facilities with a hands-on approach.
First year students learn about grapes and vineyard ‘best practice’, so much so that they work the college’s vineyards throughout the year and handpick all the grapes at harvest time. Second year students have the year-long project of processing the grapes and making the wine. It’s an arduous, but very rewarding task: alongside crushing the fruit, monitoring the ferments and bottling the wines they also have to pass a fork-lift driving exam!
Simon Tyrrell, one of our key suppliers, has just completed the 2 year course. He found the experience and knowledge of the college so essential that he suggested to Erik Robson, co-owner at ely, take the staff to Plumpton for a day’s training.
On the 10th July 2011 Erik and Michelle Robson and 7 staff members, chaperoned by Simon Tyrrell, boarded a plane to the UK for ely’s ‘Plumpton Training Course’.

The course started with a viticulture lesson. Jo Cowderoy talked us through the different parts of the vine and a typical year in the vineyard, from pruning in the winter to flowering in the summer and harvest in September. We then got a tour of one of the school vineyards. The school has over 20 varieties planted so students get to learn about many of the key varieties in the world. The grapes had just burst and but were not yet ripe enough for us to have a taste!

Following this we took a tour of the college’s small winery operation. Our host Pete Morgan took us around the winery, explaining the grape’s life cycle from vine to bottle. We looked at everything from the machinery used to process grapes, yeast types and even bottling wines.


The afternoon was spent out of the sunshine and in the tasting room – where the serious work began! Tony Milanowski, former head winemaker at Katnook Estate, Australia, took us through the tasting.

The tasting was made up of 3 parts: wine components, wine faults and tasting English wine.
Understanding wine is essential to being able to sell it competently, so our first lesson in the classroom was to taste the key components in wine. Firstly we were poured 3 glasses of what looked like tap water and were tasked with guessing what was actually in the glass. They all smelled neutral, so the answer was in the tasting.

The first glass had 1g/litre of tartaric acid (the acid naturally found in grapes) dissolved in water, the second glass has 5g/litre of tartaric acid dissolved in water and the final glass was just water. Why water? Water is the main component in grapes and accounts for 85% of a bottle of wine. The purpose of the exercise is to show two things: firstly what acidity feels like in the mouth and secondly what the standard level of acidity in wine is. Although the acidity in the second glass was searing, it was only the typical level of acidity found in wine. The reason it was searing was because there was nothing to balance out the tartaric acid, such as fruit flavours or alcohol! We repeated the process with sugar, alcohol, oak chips, bitterness and tannins; each time tasting a small amount followed by a considerably larger amount. We were all overwhelmed by the simplicity and effectiveness of the simple experiment. The final glass was a combination of all of the above which illustrated the standard structure of a glass of wine.

Standard composition of wine
Water: 85%
Alcohol: 12%
Acidity: 1%
Sugar: 0.5%
Proteins/Dry Matter: 1.5%

Now that we have experienced how a wine should taste, we were put through our paces on how wine shouldn’t taste: ‘wine faults’ was the second part of the lecture.
We were all quite excited about this aspect but after 5 minutes realised how scientific it was! Identifying faults can be done by visually examining the wine, by smelling it and finally by tasting it. We covered standard faults which included common examples like cork taint (TCA), oxidised wines (acetic spoilage), brett (brettanomyces), too much SO₂ as well as precipitation of protein, tartrates and phenolics to name just a few. A major part of the lesson was smelling and tasting these compounds so we can properly identify them.

Cork taint is often the only fault recognised in wine because it is the most common and most distinctive. Often people sit down to a glass of wine that doesn’t taste too bad, but that doesn’t taste too good either. What we are left with is simply a bad impression of the wine. Sometimes the wine might be dull, lacking in fruit, not bright in colour, or even yellow. ely cherry picks every wine on the list because it tastes delicious. In understanding the many faults that can occur, we hope to be able to make sure that every wine our customers have is in top condition, and if it’s not we can tell you why!

We finished up with a tasting of the wines produced by the Plumpton 2010 graduates, one of whom was Simon Tyrrell. Many of the grapes that work successfully in England are from Germany and Northern France due to the similarities in the climate. The whites were delicious, dry with mouthwatering acidity and floral fruit aromas, the reserve cuvee was lightly oaked and had similarities to Viognier, the rose was the perfect summer drink made from a blend of red and white grapes and the red wine was ‘interesting’ to say the least. The piece de resistance however was the award winning sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay: rich, complex and weighty it was the perfect drink to finish up our day at Plumpton College.

When we arrived at the college the night before we were giddy with anticipation at the day ahead, but as we left 24 hours later we were all disappointed: if only we could stay for one more day. The college, the staff, and the winery were all infectious. Pete the lecturer joked that spending time in a winery de-romanticises winemaking but we left completely enamoured with the place!

Big thanks to the wonderful staff at Plumpton, Simon Tyrrell and Erik and Michelle Robson for taking us out there!

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