Dolcetto – Piedmont’s Most Charming And Underrated Red Wine

Food & Drink

I’ve had a love affair with Dolcetto for more than two decades. This variety produces medium-bodied, sometimes medium-full red wines that display juicy fruit flavors of black raspberry, cranberry and plum. Sounds delicious, right? Absolutely, so why isn’t Dolcetto more popular?

Well, Dolcetto wines are meant for short-term drinking (within 3-6 years in most instances, though there are notable exceptions), so compared to wines made exclusively from the local Nebbiolo grape, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, that can drink well for 20-25 years and longer from some vintages, Dolcetto seems like a minor player in the game. Add to that the fact that Dolcetto means “little sweet one” in Italian (A sweet red wine? No, but many people can’t get past this reference), and you can identify the problem.

Thankfully many producers carry on with Dolcetto and make lovely wines, even as some of their area colleagues have stopped working with this grape, citing labor costs in the vineyards as a reason to cease. But thanks to the producers that recognize the great appeal of Dolcetto – as well as its tradition in Piedmont – Dolcetto is actually alive and doing quite well, even if you don’t read much about it. Add in the fact that many current releases are from two excellent, perhaps outstanding vintages in 2018 and 2019, and you realize this is a banner time for Dolcetto lovers.

There are eight different DOC or DOCG approved Dolcetto wines in Piedmont, but the three you need to know most are Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba – sometimes simply referred to as Diano d’Alba – and Dogliani. The first two are medium-bodied and display the effusive fruit qualities described above, and are ready to drink upon release. Tannins are moderate, as is acidity, meaning the wines tend not to age past a few years, although there are exceptions, as with the Boschi di Berri Dolcetto d’Alba from Marcarini, which is sourced from a pre-phylloxera vineyard planted more than 120 years ago.

As for Dogliani, a production area some 15-20 miles south of the Barolo area in Piedmont’s Langhe district, here is where Dolcetto truly offers its most intense versions. The wine takes its name from the principal vintage, Dogliani, where the Dolcetto variety is the most widely planted red grape. Paolo Boschis of the Francesco Boschis winery in Dogliani explains that extreme temperature changes here are rare, and that their vineyards are situated at high elevations (530 meters above sea level), ensuring cool temperatures, freshness and structure for aging.

The cool climatic conditions of Dogliani are ideal for Dolcetto, as Boschis notes. “Since there is a slightly cooler climate, the harvest of Dolcetto grapes is around 10-12 days late compared to the Barbaresco area and 5-7 compared to the nearest Barolo area, which ensures that there is a different maturation of the tannins as well as grape acids and sugars.”

Boschis comments on the difference between Dogliani and Dolcetto d’Alba. “The wines produced in Dogliani are therefore richer in structure and color, have very fruity aromas but will take longer time to be ready.” The finest examples of Dogliani, such as the Francesco Boschis “San Martino,” Pecchenino “Bricco Botti” and Anna Maria Abbbona “San Bernardo” are generally at peak drinking between 7-10 years after the vintage.

While some producers of Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba – these are fruit-driven examples of Dolcetto from higher elevation vineyards in the commune of Diano d’Alba, where Barolo is also produced – think Dogliani wines are much too powerful compared to their more subdued, easy-drinking examples of Dolcetto, one thing is certain – Dolcetto is a variety that is underrated, as the wines are truly singular. Barolo may be the most iconic red wine of Piedmont, but just as you don’t eat the same foods each night, so too you don’t drink the same wines day in and day out. Pair Dolcetto – whatever version you like – with duck breast, roast chicken or lighter pastas and enjoy the simple charm of this distinctive wine. And if it’s from a top producer from an excellent vintage, such as 2016, 2018 or 2019, you may be surprised at how good Dolcetto truly is.

Notes on current releases of Dolcetto:

Giovanni Abrigo Dolcetto di Diano di Alba “Sorì dei Crava” 2018 – Beautiful deep young garnet; attractive aromas of cranberry, mocha, black cherry and black molasses. Medium-full, with very good concentration, moderate tannins, very good acidity and persistence. Very nice varietal character, impressive complexity and very good persistence. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. Excellent

Giovanni Abrigo Dolcetto di Diano di Alba “Garabei” 2018 Deep young garnet; aromas of cranberry, purple orchid and a hint of anise. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Ideal ripeness, elegant, mid-weight tannins, good acidity and very good persistence along with excellent varietal character. Enjoy over the next 3 or 4 years, perhaps longer. Very Good to Excellent

Arnaldo Rivera Diano d’Alba Sorì del Cascinotto 2017 Light purple; aromas of black raspberry, black mint and mocha. Medium-full, this has ripe, forward fruit, balanced acidity, medium-weight tannins with a touch of bitterness, and good persistence. Overal, this is well balanced and offers admirable varietal character, but the wine lacks some finesse, no doubt, due to the heat of the 2017 vintage. Still, a well made wine to be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years. Very Good to Excellent

Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba 2018 Bright crimson garnet; aromas of black plum, black raspberry and dried red flowers. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, very good perssistence, middle weight tannins, very good acidity. Lovely varietal character and the depth of fruit to drink well for 3-5 years. Excellent

Fratelli Alessandria Dolcetto d’Alba 2018 Beautiful youthful garnet/crimson; aromas of cranberry, geranium and wild strawberry. Medium-bodied with excellent depth of fruit. Zesty acidity, moderate tannins, very good acidity and a lengthy, very appealing finish. Offering superb varietal purity, great freshness and lovely finesse, this is a super delicious Dolcetto meant to be enjoyed at the dinner table tonight or over the next 2-3 years, but best young. This is a pleasing, typical and well made Dolcetto d’Alba as you can find – if you love Dolcetto for its freshness and appealing fruit character, this wine is not to be missed! Superb

Marcarini Dolcetto d’Alba “Fontanazza” 2018 – Beautiful young garnet; aromas of black plum, black cherry and a hint of medicinal syrup. Medium-full with a excellent depth of fruit, very good acidity, medium-weight tannins, and a lengthy finish. Lovely varietal character, with notable overall harmony, and an appealing zestiness. Enjoy over the next 4 to 5 years, perhaps longer. Beautiful food wine. Outstanding

Marcarini Dolcetto d’Alba Boschi di Berri “Pre Filossera” 2018 – Bright ruby red; black cherry, raspberry, clove and marjoram aromas. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent ripeness, medium-weight, elegant tannins, very good acidity, impressive perssitnce. Outstanding harmony, as no one element stands out. This moves away from the zippy fruitiness of Dolcetto into a much more structured wine. This clearly has the backbone to improve for several years. Lovely now (especially paired with pork roast or coq au vin), this will peak in 7 or 8 years. Superb

Trediberri Dogliani “Bricco Mollea” 2019 Bright garnet/crimson; aromas of cranberry, black plum and pansies. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, ideal ripeness, moderate tannins, very good acidity. Delicious Dolcetto with excellent complexity and varietal character, and wonderful overall harmony; there is a touch of savory character to this wine as well. Enjoy tonight and over the next 3-5 years. Excellent

Einaudi Dogliani Superiore “Vigna Tecc” 2017 Deep garnet; aromas of ripe cranberry, licorice and black pansy. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, moderate tannins, good acidity and notable persistence. Very well made wine, especially for the very warm 2017 vintage. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Outstanding

Pecchenino Dogliani San Luigi 2018 Deep young garnet; aromas of black plum, black raspberry and clove. Medium-full with very good concentration. Ideal ripeness, very good acidity, medium-weight, sleek tannins, very good complexity. Ideal harmony, excellent varietal purity and perssistence. The ripeness is perfect, as this is not overly fruity or lush, but quite elegant and somewhat subdued. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. Excellent

Pecchenino Dogliani Superiore Bricco Botti 2016 – Bright, deep crimson/purple; aromas of black plum, clove and a hint of molasses. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, good acidity, excellent persistence, medium-full tannins that are beautifully balanced. A powerful Dolcetto with superb depth of fruit and excellent complexity, as well as ideal harmony. Still young, this will be at its peak in 5-7 years. Superb

Francsco Boschis Dogliani Superiore Vigna del Ciliegio 2016 – Deep purple; aromas of blackberry, black plum, violets and a hint of mocha. Medium-full, this has beautifully ripe fruit, a rich mid-palate, excellent persistence and medium-weight tannins. Excellent varietal character and complexity with impressive length in the finish. The effusive fruitiness has given way slightly to a more complex palette of flavors. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years, perhaps longer. Outstanding

Francesco Boschis Dogliani Superiore Pianezzo Vigne Sori San Martino 2018 Bright purple; aromas of black raspberry, cranberry, clove and purple iris. Medium-full, this has tantalizingly delicious fruit, very good acidity, moderate tannins and excellent persistence. Superb varietal character and harmony, this is marvelous! Enjoy tonight with duck with cherry sauce or over the next 3-5 years. One of the year’s best Italian wines. Superb

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