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NEW YORK — Angelo Gaja, arguably the most important man in Italian wine, has a message for the younger generation: Don’t drink without dining. “The important thing is to have wine with food,” Gaja pronounces, visiting New York last week, with his wife, Lucia; daughters, Rosanna and Gaia, and son, Giovanni, in tow. “Wine creates sensations. Wine creates conversations,” he says, brow furrowed. “And wine makes food taste better.”
Gaja, who runs the 250-acre vineyard his great-grandfather founded in 1859, has expanded the family empire to include two wineries in Tuscany, as well as an 11-room hotel housed in a 16th-century castle in Barbaresco that will open next year. He has made the Gaja vines famous worldwide along the way. He modestly chalks up his success to the family name, which is “short and easy to pronounce.” But when Gaja began aging his precious Barbarescos in small oak barrels the way the French do, he revolutionized Italian wine production, creating one of the world’s most coveted wines. Now, he’d like to change the way people are drinking it.
“There are new wine bars in Italy where the younger generation goes to have two or three glasses without food,” Gaja says, looking severe. “This is not good.”
Of course, the fifth-generation Gajas, from Rossana, who just graduated from enology school, to 10-year-old Giovanni, are learning to do it right. “It’s important to start drinking in moderation when children,” says Gaja. “During every meal they have a little bit.”
During their visit, the Gajas had plenty of opportunities to eat and drink well. On Wednesday, they tried Osteria Del Circo. On Thursday night, they ate with Sirio Maccioni at Le Cirque. And on Friday night, they made their way to 11 Madison Park.
“My father gave me a little sip of wine when I was seven,” he adds. “I grabbed the glass and put it under my nose. Then I tried it and it was disgusting. I thought it would be something sweet. Still, my father put a little bit of wine in a glass for me at every meal, though I didn’t drink it until I was 15. He poured it every day and I would just leave it there.”