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Gaja: white wine next for Italy, 2010 prospects ‘rosy’

Italy’s next big success will be with its white wines, Piedmont’s most renowned producer Angelo Gaja says in the latest issue of Decanter.

In a wide-ranging interview (to be published in the May issue of Decanter, out 5 April) the 1998 Decanter Man of the Year tells Tim Atkin MW the richness of Italy’s varied terroirs is only beginning to be exploited.

‘Italy has so much potential…an enormous range of terroirs. There are 1500 grape varieties in Italy, many of which are virtually unknown. No other country has that richness.’

And it’s the white varieties, he says, that will come into their own. ‘Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay are a bit boring, but Fiano is excellent, and I love Vermentino, Greco, Ribolla and Arneis.’

Gaja, now 70 and celebrating the 150th anniversary of the winery, reminisces about his father Giovanni.

The older Gaja was himself an innovator who decided to put the family name on the bottles in big red letters, ‘demonstrating a flair for marketing that he passed on to his son,’ Atkin notes.

But relations were not always harmonious, particularly when Angelo introduced new barriques and – famously – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘To him,’ Gaja says, ‘wine had only one colour – red – and it had to be from local grapes.’

  • In an open letter to the international wine trade sent in February, he notes that 2009 was ‘a black year for Italian exports’ but a success for Italian wine, with a record increase of 10% in volume.

    ‘Painful sacrifices’ made this possible, he says – a lowering of prices and forced sales of surplus wine in bulk.

    But there were no layoffs, no resource to government handouts, and above all, Gaja writes, the Italian wine world stayed focussed on the practical.

    ‘[It did not] waste time with the usual pointless diatribes of home-grown polemicists: native grapes versus well-known French varieties, territory versus less identifiable sources, new oak barrels versus older casks, international taste versus typical character.’

    He says that the aim of exporting an additional 2.5m hectolitres is ‘entirely feasible’.

    And he concludes, ‘The prospects for 2010 are rosy’.

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    Written by Adam Lechmere

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