I have now been fortunate to travel throughout Europe twice in the past few months. Perhaps the universe is telling me I cannot have it all, for both times I have been struck with sickness greater than any other I have had in the past couple years. Albeit, it is still just a horrible cold, but still, when you want to have a ton of energy and really take it all in…
To my fortune, however, I was largely still able to smell and taste, so not much was missed on this point, aside from a night or two perhaps.
As I slept my way through the rolling hills and vineyards of Piemonte, holding my stomache in the back seat of a sedan, I faded in and out of consciousness between stops. One such stop was a family run winery called Cantine Vajra in Barolo. What first struck me was that they were still harvesting grapes. Our guide, a descendent of the founder, explained that they were always one of the last to harvest in Barolo. It’s risky, but worth it to get the results they desire.
That day, October 16th, they were harvesting the very last of their grapes, a little known varietal called ‘freisa.’ This rare varietal is actually referred to as the ‘grandmother of nebbiolo.’ Vajra grows Freisa in extremely low yields. She explained that it was a rather uneconomical grape to cultivate, and therefore has nearly faded into obsolescence for the most part.
It sees 18 months in oak and a year in the bottle. It was noticeably different than anything we had tasted from their line, as they create fairly traditional, straightforward Nebbiolos, Barberas, and Dolcettos. But this—Freisa—stood out above the rest. It was pretty special. ‘Kye’ literally translates to ‘What is this person—this one?’ And it has that effect—a pause mid-sentence, a raising of the brows.
It paralleled the loveliness of a fine autumn day, as it displayed notes of dusty dried fruit, dried, cranberries, raisins, and spice. It had stubborn stiff tannins and sought a little more time to mature.
The young woman who lead us described Freisa as having a lost identity in Alba. She and her family were excited to preserve its presence in its native region… And so was I.