|Where and What on the Winelist: Piedmont’s Dolcetto
Piedmont Barolo and Barbaresco make this northwest corner of Italy a destination for wine lovers, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg—the expensive tip of the iceberg, to be specific. While those wines age, locals and savvy visitors spare that expense by enjoying the region’s other vinous delights, like Dolcetto. There are seven appellations featuring 100% Dolcetto wines. Dolcetto d’Alba may be the most common in the US market, overlapping as it does with the Barolo and Barbaresco, so many producers of those wines also make Dolcettos.
Southwest from Alba is Dogliani, which is also well-represented in the market and is home to some of the best Dolcettos – it certainly helps that it’s the dominant grape here, instead of playing second fiddle. The wines can be labeled Dolcetto di Dogliani or simply Dogliani. Some experts believe this is where the vine was first discovered; local producers certainly believe so, and take considerable pride in promoting it.
Dolcetto Nebbiolo, the grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco, remains the signature wine grape of Piedmont, but Dolcetto and Barbera haven’t been forgotten. Both tend to be planted in sites that don’t quite get the sun exposure that Nebbiolo, a notoriously slow-ripening grape, needs. And Dolcetto’s okay with that, ripening well enough even in lesser sites to live up to its name: “dolcetto” means “little sweet one.” The occasional wine drinker remembers “dolce” from their high-school Italian class, and may worry that they’re getting a dessert wine, but that’s a false alarm. It’s the grapes that are sweet, not the wine. That sweetness doesn’t necessarily mean high alcohol, either, Dolcetto tends toward lower acidity, so the wines can be well-balanced at a traditional 14% alcohol. It also leans toward soft, round tannins, a rich, violet color, and lots of dark fruit flavors; some examples have a chunky, almost rustic quality to them, but the best overcome this and can be quite elegant.
Dark fruit, a good, mouth-filling texture, and smooth tannins, and drinkable young. There’s lots of call for something this accessible. It makes a good, Italianate alternative for Merlot drinkers, and is generally priced quite well. Dolcetto’s generally pair best with rich foods: risotto, roasted meats, and such. However, its soft tannins make it more flexible than just that, and pork, grilled sausages, and barbecued chicken will also pair well.
E. Pira & Figli and Poderi Colla are two Barolo producers who make good Dolcettos as well. The former tends toward a full, ripe style, but without getting chunky. Poderi Colla’s Dolcetto d’Alba is in a similar style; both producers avoid new oak in these wines. Colla also makes “Bricco del Drago,” a blend, 85% Dolcetto and the rest Nebbiolo; all the grapes come from the same, eponymous cru, and the wine does see a small percentage of new oak. While not traditional, they’ve been making it since 1969, so it’s hardly new-fangled.
Paitin, in nearby Barbaresco, makes a beautiful Dolcetto d’Alba. It's silky, elegant, and concentrated—far from rustic.
Cà Viola is one of the leading wineries in Dogliani, although his two 100% Dolcettos are labeled as Dolcetto d’Alba because some of the grape sources lie outside Dogliani. The “Vilot” is intense and focused, with lots of floral and dark fruit notes, while the “Barturot” tends to be large, round, and soft.
However, owner Beppe Caviola is also the winemaker at Luigi Einaudi, and there the Dogliani appellation shines. Look for the regular Dogliani as well as the two single-vineyard wines, the “I Filari” and the age-worthy “Vigna Tecc.”
The Pecchenino brothers are another star producer of Dogliani. The “San Luigi” is their entry-level wine, medium-bodied and fruity. The “Sirí D’Jermu” is more intense and concentrated, and the “Bricco Botti” sees some time in French oak, adding spice undertones and firm wood tannins.