Wine word – Gaia Gaja: Drink before food, and seven other points

By Jim Boyce

I joined Gaia Gaja and a half-dozen others on May 21 for a lunch organized by ASC Fine Wines at CJW in Beijing. Here are a few comments she made as we enjoyed some Barbaresco 2004 from her family’s winery.

1. When you go to a restaurant, do you pick the wine or food first? “If I open gaia-gaja-wine-lunch-photo.JPGthe wine list and see something I like, I can’t resist. Then I open the food menu and find something for it.”

2. Have you tried Chinese wines? Not yet.

3. On explaining wine to Chinese consumers: “When I came to China a few years ago, I talked about the flavors in the wine. I said ‘violet’ and people said “what’s violet?‘ I said ‘truffle’ and people said ‘what’s truffle?‘ Then a guy said, ‘I don’t know what truffle is, but this reminds me of jasmine tea,” she says. “I like to get people from India and China to explain wine from their points of view. There are so many different spices and flowers here.”

4. On wine making in China: “I’m sure anyone can make wine, but it’s about the originality of the wine. I work with wine, so at night when I go home, I need something special, something that will stay in the glass for hours and evolve.” She cites Bordeaux as one of the wines that is up to the task. “China has to find the right spot [to make this kind of wine]. I’m sure there are great places here,” she says.

5. On finding wine too tannic as a youth: “The problem is that the first time you are moving into wine, you are looking for sweetness. For example, when I was little, I was eating marrons glaces (chestnuts in syrup),” she says, and explains that people’s tastes develop toward more tannic wines. “We sometimes say that people start with Cabernet, then as their taste evolves they get to [our] Nebbiolo,” she jokes.

6. On screw caps: “If we could move to screw caps, we would gaia-gaja-wine-lunch-bottle-and-long-cork.JPGdo it immediately. If you use bad corks, the wine gets damaged, and that makes me angry,” she says. The issue is that wine such as that made by Gaja matures over 40 to 50 years. “If you use screw caps, the wine may evolve more slowly than with cork,” she says. “It may be fresher and fruitier, but it may also be more closed.”

7. On corks: The closures used by Gaja are longer than the industry standard, measuring 59 mm, and at one time they were 61 mm. She notes that Gaja wine bottles use a Bordeaux neck on a Burgundy bottle in order to best handle these corks.

8. On the (then) upcoming Beijing visit by Robert Parker and on critics in general: She described Parker as “nice” and said that “when the scores come out, they have a big influence on price, even the same day.”

However, she has a different type of critique in mind. “Our dream is to give scores to writers,” she joked.

Photos: A. Yin

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