Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Little, Sweet Dragon ...

I have been caught up in a few conversations recently about greatness in wine: what that means, whether we are too concerned with the “great” wines, whether we should value more highly the “merely” good… I am lucky enough being at a restaurant like Manresa that I come into frequent contact with wines we would all agree are “great,” but I keep thinking about (and drinking!) this wine from a variety nobody really considers “great”.

The 2010 Bricco del Drago from Poderi Colla is Dolcetto—and not 100% Dolcetto like the lovely wines of Dogliani DOCG, but a wine that is blended with 15% Nebbiolo, a fairly unusual combination. Dolcetto is an everyday wine in Piedmont: along with Barbera, Freisa, and Ruché, it is drunk with regular meals while the prime Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are cellared for special occasions. Dolcetto means “little sweet one,” as the low-acid grapes at harvest have a lovely sweet taste, though the high tannins in the variety mean that there is always an enticing bitterness in the finished wine. In fact, the way good Dolcetto-based wines work on the palate is uniquely Italian in the way they combine bitterness and sweetness in such a delicious fashion.

This unusual blend has been produced since 1969, when Beppe Colla began adjusting the unusually high-quality Dolcetto grapes with a touch of Nebbiolo to “soften” the wine. Now, I am not sure if that is just a bad translation from Italian, but it is hard to imagine Nebbiolo “softening” anything with its ferocious tannin and high acid, but it does give you an idea of just how structured the Dolcetto grapes are from the Bricco del Drago (the “Hill of the Dragon”).

Beppe Colla is a legend in the Langhe hills. He took over the Prunotto winery in 1956 and brought it to prominence, and in 1961 he produced the first labeled single-vineyard wines in the Barolo zone, a concept that is now commonplace. He was also very involved in writing the DOC laws for the Langhe appellations, and possesses an intimate knowledge of the best sites for Barolo and Barbaresco—he is one of the titans of the Langhe along with Renato Ratti, Bruno Giacosa, and Giacomo Conterno… and still going strong at 86! 

This wine may actually make it onto the wine list at Manresa, if I stop buying the bottles from the cellar and drinking them! Jim Rollston, MS, Wine Director