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Vajra/Baudana

One of the best online tastings this year was with Giuseppe Vajra and Stephen Pannell, who co-imports the GD Vajra wines into Australia with Cellarhand. The 2016 vintage wines from Vajra are exquisite in their detail, refinement and precision, and the character of each expression of terroir is very clearly conveyed. I recommend you hunt these wines down, they are exceptional.

The most drinkable and, frankly, delicious of the 2016 Vajra Barolos is the 2016 GD Vajra Barolo Albe. This is a great wine to get you started on tasting the 2016 offerings. Where others in the selection need time, this is all go with fresh red cherries and strawberries, as well as blood orange, fresh-picked herbs and rose-like perfume. The palate is so complete with a super-fine weave of tannin, which sets up a chalky, flavourful delivery of ripe red and dark cherry fruit.

The 2016 GD Vajra Barolo Coste di Rosé takes finesse and fine texture to another sublime level. Aromas of star anise, rose petal and a full suite of red berry fruits open to a palate that has a precise delivery of red fruit essence. The tannins are so fine and so crisp, they spark in crystalline mode and convey such intensity with precision.

There’s a more saturated and dense feel to the 2016 GD Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole, which is very expressive on the nose with violet, blueberry and more cryptic iodine-like notes, and packed with blue flowers, such as violets, iodine and blueberries. This seductively nuanced nose leads to a suave and evenly layered palate that delivers very smooth, long flavours of red and dark cherry. This is my pick of the Vajra 2016s; it really is seamless and will age so well.

Make space at the back of the cellar for the 2016 GD Vajra Barolo Ravera. This is a bold and quite stoic young Barolo that really does need time to settle and open to a more expressive mode.

It is all here though, with intense, dark cherry-soaked herbs, stones and purple flowers. The palate is richly layered, and packed with concentrated dark cherry and cassis fruits. It marries concentrated flavours and rich tannins. Give this wine at least eight years from now.

The tiny Luigi Baudana estate in Serralunga has been managed organically by the Vajra family since 2009 and is really a postage stamp-sized passion project. There are three wines – the two crus of Baudana and Cerretta and the Barolo del Commune di Serralunga d’Alba. The latter is an amalgam of wine selected from the two crus, first made in the 2015 vintage.

The 2016 Luigi Baudana Barolo del Commune di Serralunga d’Alba is so drinkable already with a very fragrant style, and red fruits met by mint, fennel, leaves and licorice. The palate has intensity and long, piercing tannins delivered in a vibrant, fresh mode.

The 2016 Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana is awash with violet, lavender and blueberry as well as a wide range of spices and licorice, and some flinty notes, too. With dark cherry flavours sitting amid powdery fine tannins, this
is quite a suave wine, but needs a few years.

I like the 2016 Luigi Baudana Barolo Cerretta for the way it marries impressive depth of tannin and acidity to deliver a very focused, refreshing and long palate. It has very complex aromas already, with licorice, dried cherry, spearmint, porcini mushroom and light bone broth notes, as well as fresh leather, flint and dried flowers. Very perfumed and complex in the mouth, this should be at its best from 2025.

Ester Canale

These are quite possibly the most exquisite pair of wines I have tried all year. The Ester Canale project is, like the Luigi Baudana project, borne from a passion to preserve heritage and connect a new generation to those previous. The wines are both from the same lot of Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba, and Davide Rosso named the project for his late grandmother.

The 2017 Ester Canale Langhe Nebbiolo is from a mass selection replanting in the Vigna Rionda vineyard in 2011; the first wine was made in 2015. It has complex, discrete and quite savoury aromas with a bright red cherry edge, some cinnamon pastry, as well as anise, wet stones and chalk, and light florals. Some red licorice and raspberry gum are also evident. The palate has a very bright, crisp and precise brand of tannin that has fine detail and elegant, delicate layering. Very long, ethereal and almost flossy finish.

From the tiny 0.4ha remaining patch of 1946 plantings in the Vigna Rionda vineyard, the 2016 Ester Canale Barolo VIgna Rionda has a very tight-wound feel with the same chalky aromas as the Langhe, along with super fine dried spices, wet stones, orange zest, forest wood, brown spices, lightly fragrant cherry and dried berry pastry. It is so youthful, so nuanced, restrained and complex.

The palate is seamless and supple with very tightly wound, fine and layered tannins that carry a very fresh and elegant feel, and deep, fresh red cherry. Fragrant spices fill the mouth, light cocoa powder, too. There’s a long, sleek arc of tannin that arrests deep into the finish with unwavering drive. It really needs time, so try this from 2024. Just 1,800 bottles were produced.

Dom Pérignon 2010

Some uncommon good news in these times: the 2010 Dom Pérignon has hit our shores and it is a very different wine from the last two vintages – 2009 and 2008. It hails from a harvest that did not deliver an easy opportunity to make Champagne of this calibre. The growing season was tumultuous with dramatic swings and contrasts. A very cold and dry spring was followed by a hot start to summer. Two days of torrential rain mid-August set the botrytis timebomb ticking and from there it was only a willingness to select ruthlessly
that saved the vintage.

For all that, it seems the 10-year rest in the cellars has smoothed any unruliness and delivered a Champagne that is quite resolved, gently reserved and super fresh. The nose offers fresh red fruit and peach aromas with a chalky edge and white almond nougat. There’s light toasty autolysis note for now, this will develop over the next few years. Some stones and spiced brioche too.

The palate has attractive flesh, bright acidity and a bed of nut-ripe phenolics. These smooth tannins really show the role of pinot noir in this Champagne. Flavours of grapefruit, apple, some lemon and fresh hazelnut linger, all smoothly resolved. This will be best in another 4-5 years.