Full Pull Italian Gateway Drug

Hello friends. We’ve been singing the praises of Piedmontese producer Vajra for what seems like an eternity. They are, without a doubt, one of the greatest bangs for your buck when it comes to Italian wines—from entry level red blends to mighty, full-fledged Barolo.

Today, we’re offering Vajra’s Langhe Rosso, a wine we have frequently referred to as the gateway drug to the Vajra lineup—and to the red wines of Piedmont themselves. For our list members with less Italy experience, Piedmont is famous for a few things, including it’s Nebbiolo. Barolo and Barbaresco are names you might be familiar with—varietal bottlings of Nebbiolo coming from those specific areas within the Langhe region of Piedmont. However, there is so much more to this northern Italian hotspot than just straight up Nebbiolo—which is where Langhe Rosso comes in.

2014 G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso

Here in the states, we get plenty of exports of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, but the declassified blends of the three grapes? The ones that are vinified unfussily and well-loved by the locals for their food-friendly rusticity and early-drinking character and easy-on-the-wallet price? These are called Langhe Rosso and they stay home. Mostly.

Truly, the whole Langhe Rosso category is full of gems, if you can pry them away from the Italian countryside. (I mean, hey, if you made this wine, you’d probably keep it all to drink, too.) Though it’s killer wine that most people go ga-ga for, it’s not a category that shows up too frequently outside of the Langhe itself. So, when it does, especially from a producer like Vajra, we kind of lose our minds.

Self described as a “hug from Piedmont,” Vajra’s Rosso allows the winemakers to explore different varieties and combinations. Drinking somewhere between a rustic Pinot Noir and full-throttle Nebbiolo, this Langhe Rosso features predominately Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto with smaller quantities of Freisa, Albarossa, and Pinot Noir. These grapes work together to create a complex Italian wine that is surprisingly easy to drink and practically made to be paired with food. Isidoro Vajra, the youngest son of the Vajra family, describes his family’s wine in the most quintessentially Italian way possible—with a fútbol reference:

The best match is the one where each player contributes his own talents to the game. That’s why when I think about Langhe Rosso I imagine a soccer team! Nebbiolo is the team captain, it emerges for its structure and elegance. Barbera has got personality and enthusiasm, while Dolcetto supports the team with its fruit and freshness. Freisa….is like Gattuso…decisive, but never let’s down the guard. Albarossa is the goalkeeper: even though we do not notice him, without him you cannot play. And then Pinot, the playmaker: capable and quick, a real expert in dribbling, who, with his style, brings adrenaline to the match. All together they are a dream team.

2014 proved to be an incredibly fresh vintage for Vajra with slow ripening that lead to a very late harvest and heavy expression of terroir and minerality in all of the wines. The Langhe Rosso varieties were vinified separately, spending 18-24 months partially in steel and then in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd use barrels.

The color is decidedly red with hints of violet and amethyst—it’s bright and inviting. On the nose, intense earth, cedar wood, and chalk-like minerality come through with rich fruit qualities of cherries and cassis berries to balance. It’s fruity, floral, and spicy all at the same time—which in my book reads as a flashing, neon sign that says, “drink me!”. The palate is lively, featuring bright, acidic berry fruit with touches of graphite and wood that add complexity and roundness. The finish is dry with rustic, food-friendly tannins.

You could drink this bottle with a whole host of delicious foods—medium-rare burgers, charred thin-crust pizza, epic charcuterie boards, roasted racks of lamb. However, I think the ultimate food pairing for this bottles comes from Piedmont itself: a hearty bowl of Tajarin. Tajarin is an egg-based fresh pasta made with mostly egg yolks, cut ultra thin, and finished with butter, sage, and parmesan cheese. Think the grown-up version of butter noodles—that you get to drink wine with!

(If you’re not familiar with Tajarin and live in the Seattle area, stop what you are doing right now and make the next reservation at Spinasse in Capitol Hill. The Tarajin there is practically a religious experience for pasta lovers. Just don’t forget a bottle of Piedmontese wine.)

First come first served up to 12 bottles total, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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