It had to have been 2003 when someone graciously offered to take me to dinner at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. At the time Per Se wasn’t online yet and Ducasse was New York City’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant (remember all those articles about whether or not Michelin-style restaurants would take hold in the city?). Even though the restaurant had been open for 3 years, it was still one of the sexiest and most difficult reservations to obtain. Henry Kissinger was in the dining room the night we ate there.
We were seated in the back, near the restroom, not that that mattered. It was a beautiful restaurant and there literally wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
I had been asked by the host to select the wine and when I spied the 1996 Poderi Colla Barolo Dardi Le Rose on the list for great price (around $130 if I remember correctly), I couldn’t resist ordering it.
The sommelier took my order but then returned to inform me that she wouldn’t be opening the wine for me.
“It’s too young,” she said, “and it isn’t drinking well. We’ve selected a different bottle for you instead.”
She had picked a new-barrique-aged Barbera d’Asti instead. It wasn’t the time or the place to make a fuss (in part because I was someone’s guest). And so, in the spirit of not interrupting the brio of the evening (we could hear Kissinger’s voice booming from the main dining room) and to go with the flow, I bit my tongue (an apt expression!) and didn’t say a thing.
One of my early mentors, the Italian wine maven Charles Scicolone, had first told me about Poderi Colla and the legacy of Beppe Colla, his brothers, and his family’s legacy as winemakers.
You don’t me to recount that story here. Many before me have written ably of Beppe Colla’s herculean contribution to the evolution of the Piedmont wine trade and the many benchmarks that he has set over the arc of a career well spent and a life well lived.
See, for example, Charles’ excellent post from earlier this year here. And see this wonderfully informed winery profile by British wine merchant John Hattersley.
What I will tell you is that until you tread the gorgeous vineyards of this farm and breathe in the salubrious air atop the estate’s Bricco del Drago (“Dragon’s Hill,” in the first photo above), you only know half the story of this magical estate and its enchanting wines.
When I visited in the spring, Tino Colla talked at length about organic farming and why his family doesn’t farm organically. It’s all about creating balance in the vineyards, he explained (just look at the flowers growing between the rows in the Bricco del Drago above!).
He laughed as he told our group about a recent visitor from California who was obsessed with organically farmed produce. When she was served an estate-grown peach at the end of a lunch at the estate, he said, she was horrified to find a worm on the piece of fruit. When he tried to explain to her that the worm was a sign of a healthy farm and the absence of pesticides, she wasn’t having it — figuratively and literally.
As he shared his bemusement over her misconceptions about organic growing practices, I remembered the disconnect (literal and figurative) between that first bottle of Colla and me. Looking back, I wonder: was the wine not ready for me or was I not ready for the wine in the sommelier’s opinion?
I hope that that sommelier someday makes it to Poderi Colla. Then she’ll realize that the people who make these wines make them to share with people who want to learn what Langhe wines really are.
I must have visited 20 wineries over the last 12 months and 9 trips to Italy in 2016. Poderi Colla was a visit of a lifetime. The luncheon, the eye-opening tasting, the winemaking museum, and the breath-taking hike through the vineyards. I can’t recommend the estate and the wines highly enough.
You are much politer than me!
That 96 Bussia was/is (ive drink all mine!) a great wine and one that I cut my nebbiolo teeth on. I’m totally biased as their importer and friend, the Colla’s are beautiful people and Pietro is carrying on the tradition to make great, classic Piedmontese wines. By the way, Bruna (Tino’s wife) is one of the best home cooks on the planet!
Merry Christmas to you and your family Jeremy. See you at Vinitaly I hope
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