Poderi Colla - traditional innovation

“Elegance, finesse, balance,” these are not words that many use when describing Burgundy, but for Barolo and Barbaresco words like powerful, tannic and potent are more common. However, for me, elegance, finesse and balance are the exact characteristics that describe the experience of nebbiolo at its finest. These characteristics are why lovers of either of these great mono-varietal wines also tend to love the other although they taste nothing alike. “Elegance, finesse, and balance” describe an experience not a flavor.

All to often, both Langhe winemakers and the press seem enamored of power. Giant, potent wines from the 1997 and 2000 vintages have received glowing notices at the expense of more refined and balanced vintages like 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Yet fine nebbiolo is not about size, but the tightrope it can walk between intensity and delicacy. Few wineries make wines that walk this tightrope as well as Poderi Colla.

Poderi Colla combines the talents of Federica Colla and Tino Colla, respectively daughter and brother of Langhe winemaking legend, Beppe Colla, who serves as winemaking consultant extrordinare. The Colla family originally brought Prunotto to fame and founded Poderi Colla after selling Prunotto to Antinori. “Elegance, finesse and balance,” are Tino Colla’s words when asked to define their wines and I could not agree with him more. Just as the wines of Prunotto were among the finest produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, today the wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe today.

Tino Colla sees the greatness of nebbiolo as coming from having a unique dimension, a “third dimension” as he puts it. That third dimension is the emotion that truly extraordinary wines can evoke. Most wines are two dimensional, but greatness comes from this third dimension and it is his goal at Poderi Colla to bring this experience to their wines. The soul of the Colla wines comes from their three outstanding vineyard locations:

Dardi le Rose, in the Bussia zone of Monforte in Barolo. The wines of this vineyard have been made by Beppe Colla since 1961. Bussia is not a vineyard, but a sub-region of the Monforte zone, just east of the Barolo commune, that includes such grand vineyards as Dardi, Pianpolvere and, in Bussia Soprana: Cicala, Gabutti, Colonnello, and Romirasco. All of which can appear under the Bussia name. The Dardi vineyard produces the most classic of Barolo wines, a style that requires significant bottle aging to release its full personality. The Dardi vineyard is at an altitude of 300 to 350 meters and is planted only with nebbiolo (60% michet and 40% lampia) in a perfect south, south-west exposure. Skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days. Aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 24 to 28 months.

Roncaglie, in the Barbaresco commune of the Barbaresco zone. Beppe Colla has made wines from this vineyard since 1956. The Roncaglie vineyard is in the heart of some of the Barbaresco commune’s finest vineyards. Located in the southwest corner of the Barbaresco commune, near the border with Treiso, the great vineyards of Roncaglie and Roncagliette forum an upside down “U” of perfectly exposed vineyards that would be a lot more famous if Gaja had not chosen to call his two vineyards located here Sori Tilden and Costa Russi instead of using the actual vineyard names. These vineyards produce some of the richest wines in Barbaresco combining depth of flavor with exotic aromatics. Besides the Barbaresco Roncaglie, this vineyard is home to the Barbera d’Alba Costa Bruna, Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo and the Langhe Chardonnay Pian Martino. The vineyard is between 240 and 280 meters above sea level. For the Barbaresco, skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days and aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 12 to 14 months.

Cascine Drago, located just outside of Alba near the Barbaresco zone was the property of Luciano Degiacomi, an old friend of Beppe, who ran the estate as a labor of love to feed his passion for wine. Degiacomi sold the property to the Colla family as he knew they would continue using the vines he had planted to make the finest wines possible. Here is planted nebbiolo for their Nebbiolo d’Alba along with riesling, freisa and the pinot noir vines that make the excellent pinot nero, Campo Romano. From these vineyards comes the dolcetto and nebbiolo for their blend Bricco del Drago, the original super-Piemontese blended wine. The vineyards here are between 330 and 400 meters in altitude.

Tino and Federica describe their philosophy as a commitment to “naturalness and originality”. Originality may seem a strange claim to make for wines so traditional in method and character, but in today’s world of wines made for judging, not drinking, the refined wines of Poderi Colla may indeed be original. These are wines made with as little human intervention as possible, even the anti-mold sprays used by most wineries are avoided in their vineyards, which are farmed in an organic style.

“Most of today’s wines are very similar, albeit obtained from very different climates and varieties: dense, dark wines with high alcohol content and loads of wood, oftentimes difficult to drink or match with food. We, on the other hand. wish to go in an entirely different direction, seeking not excess and forcibly “international wines”, but balance, finesse and original nuances. Our wines are not high-tech. They are man-made, with a strongly human element and outstanding concentration thanks to terroir and fruit and (no thanks to wood and machinery) and very sophisticated components. They are wines to be enjoyed with food, not to make a superficial splash at tastings,” say Tino and Federica.

One of the key aspects of the style of Poderi Colla is their obsession with picking their grapes at optimum ripeness - not over-ripeness. The super-maturity that mars so many Baroli and Barbaresci is the antithesis of the Colla style which features balance and complexity not power. “We don’t want a jammy nose,” says Tino Colla. “The passito flavors of Amarone are not correct for Barolo and Barbaresco.”

The wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe and the Barolo Dardi Le Rose and Barbaresco Roncaglie are a must-buy for anyone interesting in collecting wines for long-aging that exhibit the pure beauty of the nebbiolo grape. While the winemaking in the ripe 2000 vintage is to be commended for its restraint, the glories of the 1999 and 2001 vintage are very clear and the Colla’s have produced stunning wines in these fine vintages.

Tasting notes:

1999 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry and raspberry. The finish is concentrated, long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding, classic wine destined for long- term greatness; this wine needs at least ten years of aging and can benefit from more patience in good storage conditions. A classic Barolo that collectors should seek out. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2000 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Brilliant ruby, garnet, Just translucent. Deep ripe plums mixed with leather and dried roses on the nose. Big and rich on palate with a warm alcohol punch. A deep brooding wine with layers of bitter licorice and tar blended with sweet ripe cherry fruit. The finish is very concentrated and still closed with firm tannins made sweeter by ripe fruit and a warm, ripe richness. Perhaps the most ageable 2000 I have tasted and certainly among the most interesting. One of the few I would rate above an A. (Rating A+, outstanding)
2001 Barbaresco Roncaglie ($48)
Brilliant scarlet with orange garnet highlights. Quite translucent. Expansive, elegant wild flower highlights blend with an exotic spiciness and a firm, mineral tinged bittersweet raspberry fruit. A complete, pure nebbiolo on the palate. Firm black licorice, bitter tar and iodine touches intertwine with light hints of cassis and black truffles expand on the palate and grow in the firm, still angular finish. The tannins are still aggressive in the finish, but everything you could hope for is there and clearly this will be a grand wine in ten years or so. Classic in every aspect. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2001 Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, Langhe DOC ($26.00). Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Translucent. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark wild cherry. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry and wild strawberries expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. (Rating A, excellent)
2002 Nebbiolo d’ Alba ($24)
Brilliant light scarlet with orange hints. Quite translucent. The nose is layered with delicate fresh cherry fruit and bitter tar with a smoky porcini highlight. Elegant, balanced and restrained on the palate, it is already drinking well for such a firmly structured wine. The finish has plenty of grip, but is shows a silky gracefulness. Drink now and over the next several years. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating A-, excellent)
2002 Barbera d’Alba, Costa Bruna ($24)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Fresh, lively cherry aromas with a nice spicy touch. Very clean and lively on the palate with a brilliant, juicy finish. Drink this wine while young and fruity. A nice effort from a difficult vintage. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating B+, very good)
2000 Bricco del Drago, Langhe Rosso ($30)
Bright ruby with hints of purple and garnet highlights. Just translucent. Brilliant bright cherry fruit blends with earthy warm aromas on the nose. Forward ripe fruit with a sudden hard mineral impact. The finish has a dense ripe plum fruit blended with a firm tannic punch and a warm roundness. A unusual blend of clean sweet fruitiness with warm, brooding earthiness. The only Colla wine to see any barrique aging, some of which are new and aging ranges between 12 and 18 months. 85% dolcetto and 15% nebbiolo(Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo ($14 - Best Buy)
Brilliantly purple with ruby highlights. Just translucent. A fantastic dolcetto packed with mouth watering fruit. Expansive bright plums and cranberries on the nose lead to lively deep sweet cherry flavors with a fine mineral backbone and bitter tang. The finish is filled with warm raspberry fruit brought alive by a zesty acidity. Just plain delicious. drink now and over the next several years. Aged only in stainless steel. (Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Freisa, Langhe DOC ($14)
Freisa does not get any better than this. Brilliant bright ruby with purple highlights. Tooth jarring acidity explodes into deep sweet plum and blueberry fruit flavors. The finish is zesty with cassis highlights. A little gas is left in the wine for even more liveliness. Drink as soon as you can! (Rating B+, very good)

Sottimano - using wood with grace

SottimanobasarinNebbiolo purists argue that using barriques for Barbaresco and Barolo is to destroy a grand tradition, but the Sottimano family in Barbaresco is proving that barrels themselves are not the enemy: it’s what winemakers do with them. In a small village just outside of Neive in the Barbaresco zone is the tiny Sottimano cellar where Rino and Andrea Sottimano, father and son enologists, quietly produce some of the Barbaresco zone’s finest wines.

Tasting their wines is proof positive that barriques can be used to produce nebbiolo while still maintaining every nuance that a vineyard can give a wine. Inspired by both the distinct characteristics of their four (soon to be five with the addition of Basarin) nebbiolo vineyards and the diverse “terroir” wines produced by Burgundy’s finest winemakers, the Sottimano family does everything possible in the vineyard and cellar to bring out the character that nature gives their vineyards, the wines from which are each bottled under their own names. The results of their efforts speak for themselves in four superb Barbaresco wines that are excellent vintage after vintage.

The Sottimano family now releaased their 2001 vintage. As excellent as the 2000 vintage wines are, the 2001 vintage looks to be an almost perfect vintage combining all the aspects required to make great Barolo and Barbaresco producing wines with every facet in harmony and balance and with fruit ripeness alone not being the major definition of personality. The 2001 vintage is for enthusiasts who love the both the power and idiosyncrasies of nebbiolo. In other words, if you prefer the austere pleasures of nebbiolo to the jam of shiraz, 2001 is a vintage not to miss and it challenges 1996 as the most classic vintage of this string of excellent vintages. As Andrea Sottimano noted during my recent visit there, “You have to love the purity of nebbiolo to love the 1996 and 2001 vintages.”

The four 2001 Barbaresco releases from Sottimano are superb across-the-board, with each offering unique characteristics that are fascinating to compare as the wines are made in exactly the same way with their differences coming from the vineyards alone. Their wines spend their first year (the exact number of months depends on the vintage) in new, small French oak barrels then is racked into older small barrels for the last year of wood aging. This first passage in new oak helps “set” the beautiful colors and structure of the Sottimano wines, but as they are then moved into used barrels the oak flavors are a highlight and not the main theme. In fact, when tasting the 1996 Curra with Andrea it was hard to believe the wine had spent any time in barrique as no overt oak flavors marred the beautifully developing nebbiolo fruit. “I want people to think about the vineyards, not the barrels I used,” explained Andrea. Four of the Sottimano Barbaresco vineyards fall within the Neive commune (Fausoni, Curra, Cotta, Basarin) while Pajore, one of the zones most respected vineyards, is located in the Treiso commune.

It is difficult to choose which Sottimano wine to drink as part of the pleasure is comparing the characteristics and development of the individual vineyards, but everyone has their favorites and for their current releases I will give a slight personal nod to the floral and spiced refinement of the Pajore in the ripe 2000 vintage and the smoky, deep black fruit intensity of the Cotta in the more structured 2001 vintage.

However, for drinking today, I am going to recommend the graceful and refined 2001 Fausoni not as the “best” Sottimano, as that choice is a personal pleasure,  but because of the special characteristics of this vineyard. The need to age Barolo and Barbaresco is always a problem for restaurants and those without wine cellars and the natural characteristics of the Fausoni vineyard combined with intelligent vineyard techniques and winemaking used by the Sottimano family, produces a nebbiolo that can be drunk with pleasure in six or seven years - as always, when it comes to Barolo and Barbaresco the term “forward” is relative. The 2001 Fausoni Barbaresco is a rich ruby with garnet hints and is radiantly translucent. It is a graceful wine with a tannic punch at this early stage, but is already showing the classic “balsamic” character of vineyards in the heart of the Neive commune. Andrea Sottimano recommends at least 5 or 6 years of aging, but certainly more patience will be rewarded.

While it is one thing to make good wines in great vintages it is another to make good wines in difficult years and the excellent potential of the problematic 2002 and 2003 vintages still resting in barrel in the Sottimano cellar are a tribute to the winemaking skills of Rino and Andrea.

“What is most important is my terroir,” explained Andrea — a statement that truly lives in his wines.

A Marc de Grazia Selection - various importers including:
Michael Skurnik - New York

Barolo, Tenimenti Fontanafredda, La Rosa, 1999

FontanafreddalarosabottleLike Bordeaux and Burgundy, Barolo is a complex patchwork of communes and vineyards where sometimes the space of only a few meters changes the character of the wines produced. In Barolo and Barbaresco these differences were often lost as production was dominated by large producers who bought grapes from throughout the region and labeled them as simply Barolo or Barbaresco.

However, the explosion of estate bottled wines in Alba has been changing this and slowly-but-surely the market is becoming aware that there are differences between nebbiolo grown in Serralunga d’Alba and La Morra - just as there are recognized differences between St. Julien and St. Estephe or Corton and Volnay.

The commune Serralunga d’Alba is on the eastern edge of the Barolo zone and the sandstone soils produce some of the most tannic and structured of Barolo wines. At the northern tip of Serralunga, as it reaches towards Alba, sits the great La Rosa and Gattinera vineyards that surround the historic Fontanafredda estate. This estate is indeed part of Barolo history and some of the earliest Barolo wines produced came from these cellars – a tradition that dates back to 1878.

However, the greatness that was Fontanafredda had gone into hibernation until it was rescued by the bank. That’s right the bank – Fontanafredda was acquired by Immobiliari S.p.A, Gruppa Bancario Monte dei Paschi di Siena, who has also invested in two Tuscan wine properties, Poggio Bonelli and Chigi Saracini. This influx of capital and leadership has launched Fontanafredda on the road to reclaiming past greatness.

As one of the largest and oldest estates in the region they had a core of outstanding vineyard holdings - most notably La Rosa and Lazzarito in Serralunga d’Alba and La Villa (a sub-section of Paiagallo) in the Barolo commune to build upon. Under the leadership of Director General Giovanni Minetti and winemaker Danilo Drocco the entire Fontanafredda line has seen marked improvement, but what is most exciting is the introduction of a range of single vineyard wines from their classic vineyards which they have called Tenimenti Fontanafredda. This important range of wines includes offerings from all the important DOC and DOCG zones of the Alba and Asti region. Each is a single vineyard selection and the stars are, of course, the three Barolo selections; La Rosa, Lazzarito La Delizia and Paiagallo La Villa. The Tenimenti Fontanfredda releases make this estate once again a producer that should be considered by anyone who loves Piemontese wines and the 1999 La Rosa is a wine that deserves consideration from serious collectors.

Tasting Notes: 1999 Tenimenti Fontanafredda, Barolo, La Rosa
Bright ruby/scarlet with just the lightest hint of orange. Just translucent. The aromas are an exotic mix of ripe dark fruits and leather with hints of dried porcini mushrooms. Smoky ripe plums show in the nose and on the palate are followed by layers of dusty burnt cherries and bitter oranges that are still held in check by firm, hard tannins that are somehow surprisingly round in their intensity. The finish is restrained by its intense tannins, but the powerful complex fruit flavors are already starting to show through. Tasted over a four day period and the wine was still fresh and showing no oxidation on the forth day. Decidedly a wine for long-term cellaring. Imported by Wine Wave

Nebbiolo d'Alba, Bricco dell'Asino, Pira, 2000

Much is made of the Barolo Wars between the new and old style in Piemonte. One thing for sure,   if you love the new oaky style of Barolo you have to pay a lot for your pleasures. It seems the lowest prices in the modern style start around $50.00. No, Pira Nebbiolo d’Alba is not a Barolo, but the vineyard is just outside the DOCG and for around $30.00 this Nebbiolo d’Alba offers depth and complexity that can rival some of its more famous and expensive neighbors.      

Nebbiolo d’Alba is often misunderstood as a kind of declassified Barolo or Barbaresco, but they are in fact distinct DOC’s. While the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC surrounds Barolo and Barbaresco one cannot become the other. Declassified nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco becomes Langhe or Piemonte   Rosso — not Nebbiolo d’Alba. It is clear that there are vineyards in the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC that can produce wines of the same character and depth as some Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. They may not surpass wines from the likes of Brunate and Cannubi, but the best vineyards can clearly deliver wines of great character. Bricco dell’Asino is showing the promise to be one of these vineyards.

The Pira family acquired this estate in the 1960’s, but it was the arrival of GianMatteo Pira that launched this estate towards top quality wines. The Pira estate has become famous for their extraordinary Dolcetto wines from the Dogliani zone. Don’t confuse this estate with the excellent Barolo producer, Luigi Pira, in the town of Serralunga d’Alba. This Pira estate is located right on the border of Monforte d’Alba and Dogliani and so is allowed to produce wines with both the Alba and Dogliani place-names. GianMatteo’s dark and powerful Dogliani Dolcetto wines are among the best  of Piemonte and now, with the 2000 vintage, he is making a Nebbiolo d’Alba worthy of serious attention. He has aged this wine 100% in barrique and the toasty oak flavors will please fans of new-style Barolo.      

Tasting Notes: Brilliant scarlet, hints of ruby and a touch of garnet. Just translucent. Spicy ripe plums with layered sweet vanilla oak. Smoky, charcoal aromas add complexity. Firm and structured on the palate. Loaded with ripe plums and cherries with a distinctive tang of chewing tobacco. Starts out medium bodied, but then expands magically in the mouth into an explosion of tannins, tobacco and wild dark fruit flavors. A really delicious wine to drink. With short term aging - 2 or 3 years - you will have a great bottle. A Jens Schmidt Selection, Imported by Montecastelli Selections.

Barolo, Francesco Rinaldi, Barolo, Cannubbio, 1996

A really gorgeous mix of bright scarlet with radiant garnet that foretells of the elegant pleasures to come. Lean and dusty on the nose with hard bitter licorice and dried rose aromas slowly opening into ripe deep bitter cherry fruit. The initially hard attack on the palate grows into a graceful yet assertive blend of tannins, sour cherry, ripe raspberry and a lively mint with a leathery touch. The finish walks a tightrope between tense tannins, bitter black fruit flavors that grow into an almost juicy, yet delicate fruitiness.

I just purchased this bottle off the shelf in Portland (E and R Wines) for $60 and I can’t help but  wonder why anyone is buying the 2000’s while there is so much great wine from other vintages available. I just grabbed the last two bottles of 1996 Produttori dei Barbaresco Riserva Pora at a local gourmet grocery for $36. Everywhere I go there are bargains like these wines. Let the Wine Spectator readers grab up those fat 2000’s and spend time looking for the 96’s and 99’s scattered throughout the USA.