The name, “Dolcetto” (sweet little one) is a bit of an anomaly when you consider the dry and tannic nature of the wine. It is, however, one of Italy’s most favourite easy-drinking reds that, like Barbera, can star at any laid-back Italian dinner party. Fruity flavours of black cherry, liquorice and prune feature on the palate, with slightly bitter finishes of almond and walnut. Dark and spicy aromas tickle the nose. A Dolcetto can be enjoyed at a younger age than its more sophisticated cousins of Barolo and Barbaresco, usually three to four years after its vintage.
There are many competing opinions as to Dolcetto’s place or origin. Some argue that it emerged in France and moved to the Monferrato region in the 11th century, with others standing by the regional town of Dogliani. Either way, Dolcetto is now cultivated countrywide. It also has made an appearance in the United States, thanks to the efforts of expat Italians in California. Piedmonte is home to some of the of most prestigious Dolcetto variations in the country, including the DOCG-awarded Dolcetto di Dogliani. Others include Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Acqui, Dolcetto della Langhe Monregalesi, Dolcetto d’Ovada, Langhe Dolcetto and Dolcetto do Diano d’Albo – to name just a few!
The grape matures earlier than the Nebbiolo variety, and is also more resilient with regards to soil type and weather. Like the Barbera grape, the Dolcetto is black with high levels of anthocyanins (dark pigments) in the skin. This means that the wine requires a shorter maceration period to ensure that it does not end up too tannic. Careless winemaking practices often make Dolcetto prone to reduction. Due to this, micro-oxygenation techniques have been introduced to the standard procedures of making the wine. These methods protect Dolcetto from the sulphuric compounds that lead to badly reduced wine.
If a Barolo is considered the three-piece-suit of Piedmonte wines, Dolcetto is the jeans-and-T-shirt. It is rustic, laid-back and unpretentious and perfect for a relaxed dinner or lunch. Its natural fruitiness complements herby pasta sauces and pizza toppings – especially the flavours of basil or mozzarella. It is mouth-watering alongside bruschetta with olive oil, tomato and fresh basil. The sharp tannins of the wine make interesting counterpoints to richer, fattier foods like sausages. Pair with a thick chuck of farm style salami, or salty slivers of prosciutto. Pork dishes are also enhanced by Dolcetto.
Visit the cradle of Dolcetto wine by paying a visit to the town of Dogliani. Located within Cuneo province, this historic municipality dates back to pre-Roman times. It has the prestige of hosting the Botegga del Vino, an association that represents all of the main wine-makers in the area. The town experienced a kind of Renaissance in the nineteenth century through the efforts of architect Giovanni Battista Schellino, whose eclectic and vibrant works gave Dogliani a unique architectural heritage that distinguishes it from other towns in Piedmonte. Every year, the Sagra del Dolcetto is held. This is ancient festival celebrates the annual harvest of the grape in the town, and recreates some of the older practices and rituals that marked this auspicious event in past years.