The twin appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco, respectively southwest and northeast of Alba, on the south bank of the Tanaro River, are awash with the names of iconic producers known around the wine world. In the case of Barolo, think Bruno Giacosa, Bartola Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, the late Aldo Conterno, Paolo Scavino and Elio Altare, for starters. Barbaresco is a bit less star-studded, blessed with one ne plus ultra superstar, the redoubtable Angelo Gaja (b. 1940), but Barbaresco is also home to one of the most respected wine cooperatives on Planet Earth, Produttori del Barbaresco. In both appellations, however, there are producers who deserve more attention than they get. Consider, for example, Poderi Colla, presently domiciled on the Bricco del Drago hill on the southwest edge of the Barbaresco DOCG, within the township of Alba.
Collas have been in some part of the wine business, and always somewhere in the Langhe, for more than 300 years, but Poderi Colla in its present form dates just from 1996. Ernesto (Tino) Colla (b. 1949) and his son Pietro (b. 1980) are in charge, focused firmly on estate-grown fruit and site-specific wines. There are vineyards in three sites: Nebbiolo for the Nebbiolo d’Alba bottling, plus Dolcetto, Pinot Noir and Riesling on the Drago Hill; Barbara and Nebbiolo for the Barbaresco DOCG wine at Roncaglie, about two kilometers northwest; and Nebbiolo for the Barolo DOCG bottling at Dardi le Rose, part of Bussia, the most celebrated cru in the township of Monforte d’Alba. Many things about the Collas impress and ingratiate, not least their gregarious good humor and ever-ready hospitality, as I learned when my visit in 2010, which unintentionally overlapped with the end of a later-than-usual harvest. True that Pietro had to disappear when a gondola of grapes from Bussia arrived just before nightfall, but other members of the family kept the tasting on track and well supplied with tasty comestibles. More impressive, however, is the seriousness of purpose that underpins their good humor. Not just the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG wines, but most of Colla’s varietal wines – the Dolcetto (dubbed Pian Balbo), the Barbera (dubbed Costa Bruna), the Pinot Noir (dubbed Campo Romano) – are single-site bottlings, as is the Langhe Rosso, a blend of Dolcetto with Barbera and Nebbiolo, which carries the Bricco del Drago name. The Collas are said to be the first to have planted Pinot Noir in the Langhe, ca. 1970, inspired by Tino’s time in Burgundy, where he worked after formal training at Alba and before returning to the family’s own vineyards. And the first (or perhaps the second after Vajra) to plant Riesling, whose popularity in the Langhe is now growing. Pietro spent some time in California after his own Alba-based training, a generation later The family’s commitment to site-specificity is also strong; they are said to have been the first to have use “Bussia” on a label; long before Bussia was recognized as a cru of Barolo.. In the vineyard there is dedication to sustainable viticulture that is usually organic-in-fact.
Most of all the Collas are steadfast about elegance. The 2015 vintage of Dolcetto Pian Balbo, tasted in February 2017 in San Francisco, was the prettiest Dolcetto I think I have ever tasted, soft and gentle of grip as one would expect, but also precise, saturated, feminine and serious, and very lightly filtered, possibly benefitting from the choice of large neutral wooden casks for élevage. The 2013 Barbaresco Rongaglie was beautiful and mellow at mid-palate, and redolent of incense, before tightening up on the finish. But just three years older, the same wine from 2010, was brilliant and high-toned and textured more like fruit and citrus peel than tannins, and enjoyable mouth-coating. A high acid vintage helped here, no doubt, but the wine was already enjoyable, less than seven years after the harvest. A 2011 Barolo Bussia was also very drinkable at an age when most Barolos are challenging, with savory and nutty highlights; the same wine from 2010 married a lively and bright impression with deep flavors and great intensity. “We search for Barolo with elegance,” Tino explained, “not Schwarzenegger.” Virtually all Colla reds finish closer to 13 than to 14, which is decidedly unusual.
Although Colla wines have been available in the States for some time, a new importer is now in charge: The Source Imports in Thousand Oaks.