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This distinctive white really caught my attention at a recent tasting of wines the Wine Society in the UK is especially proud of. Not only did it strike me as being particularly complex and good value for £9.95, I was intrigued by what had gone into it. It was described as a Chardonnay but – and I hope the great god of Chardonnay will forgive me for writing this – it tasted much more interesting than this. It was so aromatic that I was convinced there was some Riesling in it. In fact, this is what I wrote about it:
Luigi Baudana, Dragon 2012 Langhe 16.5 Drink 2013-2015
Made by Giuseppe Vajra in Serralunga; lightly oaked. Very perfumed with a Riesling-like spine. Exciting structure. Unfolds on the palate. Very lightly oily. Some evolution. I could swear there's some Riesling in there! But apparently it is all Chardonnay… Brings to mind Terry Thiese's 'always go for a Chardonnay from the village of Riesling'. GV 14%
I looked up the wine online and came up with conflicting information so I emailed the Vajras of Barolo, who now own the Luigi Baudana estate, to ask for more precision. I had to wait quite a while because they were submerged in bottling but here is what they eventually told me:
'Indeed the Langhe Dragon is a blend of varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Nascetta and a tiny amount of Riesling. Luigi Baudana planted Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the coolest of his Cerretta blocks [of Serralunga d'Alba within the Barolo zone], in the mid 1980s. His original plan was to find out which variety would behave better. Eventually, he decided to let both grapes grow side by side. The wine was labelled as Langhe Chardonnay, after the predominant grape (>85% of the blend). When we joined Luigi and Fiorina in 2009, we realised that 20 years of farming, of roots digging deep in the soils of Serralunga, were too much of a treasure to be destroyed. We thought that, by replanting the vineyard, it would have taken another two decades to reach a prime-time.
'Meanwhile, we had planted some Nascetta in Novello so that we could learn about this grape. It's an intriguing variety and we felt it could complement the Baudana Bianco, enriching the blend with some gracious fiori di campo [flowers of the field]. And, I have to admit, we stole some cases of Riesling from our parents ever since the first vintage.
'Our desire for the Dragon is to keep it genuine and humble. It's fermented and decanted in stainless-steel only. However, we discovered a surprising ageing potential for being such a simple wine. We don't have any more 2009 and 2010 here at the winery, but we would be more than happy to find a few bottles and send you a little vertical (2009-2013) for you to see the evolution of this wine. We can only understand this is the result of some noble DNAs and soils.'
Sounds like an intriguing proposal – and so like the typical generosity of the people of the Langhe hills. This is surely a factor in the currently surging interest in Barolo and Barbaresco, about which we will be writing at length next week. The reference to Riesling is to the Langhe Riesling Pètracine bottling that is something of a speciality of the GD Vajra estate. And Nascetta is described in our Wine Grapes directory of grape varieties as a 'renascent semi-aromatic Piemontese made increasingly as a varietal wine'. In the modern era it was first vinified by Elvio Cogno and the Novello commune is still its sphere of influence. We describe it in our book as having acacia aromas. Perhaps this is what added to the intrigue of the bouquet, and led The Wine Society to think it was 'lightly oaked'?
In any event, whatever the varietal make-up, I commend this fascinating wine to you. It is quite dry enough to savour with food, but intriguing and refreshing enough to drink before, or even after, a meal. It doesn't taste especially alcoholic though it's not short of body.
Wine-searcher currently identifies only the Wine Society as a UK retailer and cites two more in the US, but the Vajras have supplied this comprehensive list of importers round the world, which I hope may be of use (although I suspect that not all of them import the Dragon white):
UK: Thorman Hunt, Vinexus, Lay & Wheeler, Fine+Rare, The Wine Society
NY: Artisan Wines
CA: No-CA: Beaune Imports; So-CA: Rinascimento Wine Co
DC, VA, MD, NC, SC: The Country Vintner
FL: Stacole Wines
GA: (soon to arrive) Quality Wine & Spirits
WA: Unique Wines
MO: A Bommarito Wines
MI: Behind the Cellar Door
MN: New France Wine Co
OH , KY: Wine Craft
HK, MACAU: Ponti Food & Wine Cellars
CHINA RP: Ruby Red, Shanghai; Deweida Shanghai Trade, Shanghai
BELGIUM: Caves de France
DENMARK: HJ Hansen
FRANCE: Arte del Vino
GERMANY: several stockists incl Wein-Bastion, Vino Stefano
GREECE: Siganos AE Wine & Spirits
LATVIA: Magers-1 SIA
NETHERLANDS: Heisterkamp Dranken
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