Breweries, Wine, and Cheese Lifestyle

The Grapevine: The New Old Style of Nebbiolo

By Gina Trippi

Nebbiolo is a small, thin-skinned grape-making wine generally high in acid and tannins. While we have lovely bottles of Nebbiolo you can drink now, the grape is mostly regarded for becoming Barolo. That is, until now!

Introducing Claré J.C., from G.D. Vajra in Piedmont, Italy—home of Barolo. The Vajra family has farmed the highest vineyard in Comune di Barolo since the 1880s. This hilltop village became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. The elevation and the marine sedimentary soil lay the foundation for grapes that show finesse and complexity over power.

Aldo and Milena Vajra took charge of the estate in 1968, seeking to bring the family legacy of winemaking forward. In 1971, Aldo was one of the first winemakers to adopt organic farming in Piedmont, and Vajra is now certified sustainable and organic.

Vajra is trailblazing the rediscovery of winemaking traditions from the 17th century. Claré J.C. is the creation of Giuseppe Vaira, the son of Aldo and Milena. The story begins when Giuseppe reads an account by Thomas Jefferson of his trip to Piedmont in 1787 when he described Nebbiolo as “about as sweet as the silky Madeira, as astringent on the palate as Bordeaux and as brisk as Champagne.”

Giuseppe, intrigued, wondered if the bubbles of the Nebbiolo in 1787 were intentional or, as many suggested, an accident in fermentation. Early Nebbiolo begins to round out when Giuseppe runs across a 1606 reprint of winemaking protocols of G.B. Croce, Royal House of Savoia. In what Giuseppe said was a revolution in his thinking about early wine, he found the wines were made lighter, off-dry and slightly fizzy—intentionally.
Giuseppe began experimenting in 2013 and labeled the bubbly Nebbiolo “Claret J.C.,” with the “J” being for Jefferson and the “C“ for Croce. All bottles were sold to a small online retailer and then quickly sold out. The name changes slightly for the next vintage as the Bordeaux Wine council insisted Vajra cease using the term claret, a British name for Bordeaux.

Accordingly, this Nebbiolo is made pursuant to Croce’s 1606 recipe calling for lighter Nebbiolo wines with sparkle. While this wine is made in the ancestral method, adopted and modernized by Vajra, Claré J.C. is not an exact copy of the 1606 recipe as Vajra uses steel tank fermentation to preserve freshness instead of oak barrels. Fair enough!

The wine tasting notes say: “Bright ruby red color, with the typical hue of Nebbiolo. Suave fragrance on the nose, mountain berries, raspberry, purple-toned inner florals and cassis, a touch of licorice. The palate is enveloping, with just the lightest touch of fizz and a soft crunchy texture. Complex bouquet of orange peels, raspberries, fresh black cherry and a very lifted, refreshing finish.”

The silky tannins make this wine ideal for serving slightly chilled during the warmer months, and it pairs with diverse foods: appetizers, spicy dishes, fried delicacies, BBQ, even fish.

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big-shop selection with small-shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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