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Dolcetto - Another great grape from Piemonte

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

After few long blogs dedicated to the king of Italy's noble grapes, today I will introduce one of my favorite and also a wine which meet the American palate more than a Nebbiolo based wines.

Here is how Ian D'Agata introduce Dolcetto:

Decades ago the Langhe, a beautiful area of Piedmont situated around the Tanaro River and most famous for its production of Barolo and Barbaresco, was a kaleidoscope of colors at harvesttime, alive with an entire spectrum of leafy reds, yellows, and greens.

Dolcetto, which ripens earlier in the season than Nebbiolo or Barbera, was a big contributor to the panorama, along with varieties such as Grignolino and Barbera.

Alas, thanks to human nature (and the high prices Barolo and Barbaresco fetch nowadays), producers have taken to planting Nebbiolo just about everywhere, even in sites that are not especially suited to that late-ripening variety. The end result is that Dolcetto and other varieties (Freisa and Grignolino have fared even worse) have been planted less and less, and that much of the Barolo and Barbaresco made today is from lower-quality sites. I’m not being needlessly poetic or intellectual here: the latest Italian agricultural census (2010 data) reveals that the total hectares planted to Dolcetto in Italy have decreased 18 percent since 2000. And of course, we have lost that beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, not to mention biodiversity.

While the wine made with Dolcetto is resolutely dry, never sweet, the grapes are quite sweet and low in acidity (which explains its name, “little sweet one”).

Dolcetto was Piemonte's most widely planted grape. Most of the planting for Dolcetto happens to be in the Langhe Hills . The grape is highly valued by the growers because it ripens earlier than both Nebbiolo and Barbera and ripens in cooler and higher sites ( where Nebbiolo and Barbera wound not ripe at all). This allows Dolcetto wines to be released sooner, providing a source of income while other wines are still in the cellars.

Dolcetto wines are deep in color with grapes and black fruits aromas. The palate shows ripe plum with almond and licorice flavors. It is soft and round low in acid. The grape noticeable tannins contribute to a pleasant bitter finish. Nowadays some Dolcetto wines are produced as full body, highly structured wines with some aging potential.

Dolcetto does best on calcareous-clay and sandy-calcareous soils. In Piedmont, there are eleven DOC wines made and they can differ considerably: the best known are Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Ovada, Dolcetto di Dogliani, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba, Dolcetto delle Langhe Monregalesi, Dolcetto di Acqui, and Dolcetto d’Asti.

The Dolcetto d’Alba is the fullest bodied, while the Dolcetto di Dogliani is floral and fresher, and more perfumed. It can also be the most powerful. This is because in the Dogliani area Dolcetto has always been viewed as the most important grape and the best sites have been reserved for it. Diano d’Alba is another town that takes Dolcetto very seriously and in 1974 had a very detailed and extensive zonation study performed in which geological and other important differences were analyzed within the DOC boundaries.

Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG (Dogliani DOCG).

Dogliani DOCG (formerly Dolcetto di Dogliani) is a red wine made exclusively from Dolcetto grapes grown in vineyards around Dogliani. It is generally much bolder in style than those wines from its Dolcetto DOC counterparts, such as Dolcetto D'Alba and Dolcetto D'Asti and is regarded for its intensely perfumed bouquet and rich black fruit character with coffee and dark, bitter chocolate notes.

Like the neighboring town of Ovada (of the Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore DOCG), Dogliani only produces Dolcetto wines.

The name Dogliani is held to be a mutation of Dolium Jani, meaning 'the wine jar of Janus'. This follows a legend that the Roman god Janus visited the town to try its wines, stored in those days in earthenware dolia (wine jars). Another possible etymology points to the fact that Dogliani's soft, Dolcetto-based wines were traditionally ready for drinking well before tannic Nebbiolos from neighboring villages, perhaps even as early as the January (Janus' month) after vintage.

The town of Dogliani is located among the rolling hills just a few miles south of Piedmont's most revered wine village, Barolo. But while Barolo specializes in growing fussy, hard-to-grow Nebbiolo vines, Dogliani focuses on softer, fruitier Dolcetto. The links between Dogliani and its Dolcetto wine are strong, as manifested by the town's coat of arms: a blue lion holding a golden wine carafe. It has been said (admittedly, most often by those producing and selling Dogliani wines) that the Dolcetto variety originated in the hills around Dogliani. Whether this is accurate or not, it remains true that the variety's finest expressions come from the vineyards here.

Dogliani can be considered the most prestigious of the Dolcetto wines. It is the most complex, concentrated and age worthy, particularly when bottled as Superiore. The finest example are made from single vineyards. The wines show deep color with Purple Highlights and aromas of flowers and black fruit. The palate has moderate acidity, ample tannic structure and a pleasant bitter finish.

Cascina Carra'

Grape variety: 100% Dolcetto

Vineyards: situated in the commune of Monchiero

Altitude of  vineyards: between 350/450 meters above sea level

Soil composition: clay – calcareous

Vineyard exposure: southeast

Vine growing: traditional guyot

Max production per hectare: 80 quintals per hectare

Vinification: The vinification is carried in stainless steel tanks, with the submerged cap system and the maceration of the skins lasts from 5 to 7 days. The fermentation temperature is monitored and maintained around 25 ° -27 °C. The malolactic fermentation takes place at the end and when the racking is completed.

Aging: The aging lasts 16 months of which 10 are in small French oak barrels and 6 in the bottle for proper development of the product before being placed on the market.

Tasting notes: warm, smooth with good austerity. The colour is intense ruby red with violet hues,  emerge hints of berries, dried fig and plum jam. In the mouth it is powerful, beautiful tannins and a long finish.

Alcohol: from 12.5% to 14% depending on the year

Serving suggestions: goes well with pasta, meat dishes even strong and tasty

Podere Luigi Enaudi

Dogliani 2014

Score: 88

Release Price $17

Issue Oct 15, 2016

Tasting Note

An earthy, stony note underlies the black cherry and blackberry flavors in this firm, bright red. Finishes on the muscular side. Drink now. 12,500 cases made. –BS

Pecchenino- Bricco Botti

Dogliani Superiore Bricco Botti 2011

Score: 92

Release Price $50

Issue Nov 30, 2014

Tasting Note

A pretty and expressive red, whose vibrant acidity drives the cherry, blackberry, violet and cassis flavors. Beautifully balanced and graceful, with enough grip on the finish to age for a few more years. Drink through 2018.

580 cases made.

Here are more example of the best Dogliani DOCG

Dolcetto di Diano D'Alba DOCG

Diano D'Alba is a small hilltop village south of Alba and east of the Barolo appellation. Dolcetto has been growing here for centuries and the village name is stongly connected with the grape. The wines are produced by 100% Dolcetto grown exclusively on the better sites. The historical traditions of the wines allows to recognized 76 cru sites known as Sori'.

These crus officially registered in 1980s were the first attempt in Italy to recognize sites of superior quality and it served as model for the remaining appellations of Piemonte. The wine aromas and flavors are similar to Dogliani but generically more fragrant and fruity but less structured and lower in alcohol.

Dolcetto D'Alba DOC

Dolcetto D'Alba DOC is probably the best known of the Dolcetto appellations and certainly produces the most wines. Due to the large production and the many producers, the wines are the most diverse in style. From light and fruity wines to full bodies and more structured ones.

Dolcetto d'Alba is a dry red wine noted for its juicy fruit character, low levels of acidity and mild tannins. Generally more floral than its Dolcetto counterparts and not quite as bold as the Dogliani Dolcettos, its aromas are reminiscent of lavender and violets with a hint of almonds.

Like its siblings it has a characteristically purplish ruby-red color, black cherry fruit flavors encased in sweet spices and a slightly bitter almond finish that is strongly associated with wines crafted from this variety. These characteristics make it an excellent match with antipasti and an equally fine partner with the local dish of tajarin (homemade pasta from the Langhe). Some Dolcetto d'Alba is described as baroleggia, which means it is darker in color and has higher potential alcohol, giving the wine greater ageing potential. Over time, special characteristics develop reminiscent of a Gattinara or Barolo, although it never reaches the same power and richness of these two wines – instead it offers a lighter and more subtle style of wine.

The area includes the right bank of the Tanaro River and encompasses the entire Lower Kanghe. It includes the areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, where Dolcetto takes the cooler and higher sites where Barbera and Nebbiolo do not ripe well. This are produces the biggest Dolcetto, with more structure. Dolcetto D'Alba is also made from 100% Docetto and there is a Superior version as well.

Bruno Giacosa - Dolcetto D'Alba

Dolcetto d'Alba 2015

Score: 90

Release Price $25

Issue Apr 30, 2017

Tasting Note

A blast of black currant, blackberry, violet and spice notes marks this intense, concentrated red. Juicy, with fine balance and a long, chocolate-tinged finish. Drink now through 2020. 800 cases imported. –BS

Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d'Alba

Dolcetto d'Alba 2015

Score: 91

Release Price $30

Issue Apr 30, 2017

Tasting Note

This effusive red exudes floral, boysenberry, pomegranate and tobacco flavors, matched to a moderate matrix of tannins and a thick texture. Fine length. Drink now through 2020. 500 cases made. –BS

Pio Cesare Dolcetto d'Alba

Dolcetto d'Alba 2012

Score: 87

Release Price $21

ssue Mar 31, 2014

Tasting Note

A concentrated version, exhibiting cherry, blackberry, tar and spice notes. Firms up, so enjoy with foods such as salumi or cheese. Drink now through 2016. 900 cases imported. –BS


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