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#52 - 2011 Gaja Costa Russi

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Giovanni Gaja was the first to own theGaja estate, and he has since passed it down through four generations of his family. Today, this estate is most famous for having pioneered the use of temperature-specific fermentation vats in Italy, which effectively changed the face of Barolo and Barbaresco. Wines from the region became less oxidized, more stable in flavor, and bolder in fruit tones. Gaja has been described as "the man who dragged Piedmont into the modern world."

The Costa Russi vineyard came under the Gajas' ownership in 1967, and has since become one of its top-selling estates. It was named after its hill, which faces the sun, and after its previous owner's nickname, Russi. The blend on the Costa Russi is 95 percent Nebbiolo and 5 percent Barbera. What makes this wine popular among critics is its 12-month barreling cycle in barriques, followed by an additional 12 months in oak casks. After falling under the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC in recent years, Gaja was able to expand its winemaking practices for the vintage, which are less strict in this DOC than in the Barbaresco DOCG, where it originated.

In 2011, Piedmont had an overall warm harvest season that gave its Nebbiolo a more refined flavor than in previous years. The sunlight allowed the grapes to grow to a robust size, while the brief breaks from the direct sun allowed subtle acidities and flavors to come through in the juice. The tannins are more pronounced in 2011 Nebbiolo, and many of the wines from this year have a stronger bouquet than wines from years that were not as consistently warm.