Dolcetto (dole – chet – toe): the name itself is a bit deceiving. In Italian, it would mean “little sweet one,” but this red Piemontese wine is no sweeter than a Chianti or a Bordeaux. In fact, “dolcetto” takes its name from the Piemontese hills that are named, in dialect, Duzzet.
Piemonte, or Piedmont, is a northern region of Italy touching the snowy Alps and the south of France. Most attention on wine focuses on the great Barolo and Barbaresco, two wonderful red wines that do deserve more than an aside. For the sake of the Dolcetto, though, an aside is all they will receive for now so as to give this lesser-known wine some spotlight. Dolcetto is a regional wine that is not widely known outside of Piemonte, much less beyond Italy’s borders; although reasonably-priced bottles may be found in about a dozen US cities.
The Dolcetto grape is grown in the same regions as Barolo and Barbaresco, and serves an important role for producers of these two great wines. Dolcetto is best served fresh and young; it is light and simple, unlike either Barolo or Barbaresco, which both require longer aging. While a producer waits for a vintage, the Dolcetto fills in.
This not-so-complex wine is better known to be a table wine or a lunch wine, but a producer from Ovada named Tomaso Armento of the Forti del Vento winery is determined to prove this false. His Dolcetti are balanced in both tannins and acidity – a Dolcetto tends to be too tannic and not acidic enough. And, the layering of flavors is interesting and more subtle than the simple, sometimes flat, average Dolcetto.
The grape has been cultivated in Monferrato, Piemonte since before 1000 AD, and while it has spread and produced closely related vines since then, its best expression lies in the hills below the Alps. Its best terroirs are suitably its seven DOC areas: Acqui, Alba, Asti, Diano d’Alba, Dogliani, Ovada and Langhe Monregalesi. The wine earned its DOC status in 1972 in Ovada. Recently, Dolcetto di Dogliani and Dolcetto d’Ovada have acquired the DOCG status.
This modest but versatile red wine is usually not for drinking alone, but pairs smoothly with almost anything; and it is so light in flavor and refreshing that a summer glass of it could substitute a white wine for the evening. It’s traditionally low in alcohol, but modern production tendencies can sometimes give too high of an ABV. Dolcetto generally has a fresh, fruity scent and tastes of quince and jams, with balanced acidity and tannins in its very best expression (but again, too tannic and not acidic enough in other cases). It is versatile with food and never overpowering. Its signature taste is that of almonds, and a slight bitter aftertaste may be detected, as though the fine, bitter peel of the almond had dipped into the glass.
As drinkable as the average Dolcetto may be, which in itself is certainly a virtue, it has proven to be a hidden gem of a wine if produced in caring hands. Keep an eye on the Dolcetti of Piemonte, especially from Dogliani and Ovada.
Vineyard Adventures is happy to arrange tours to discover Piemonte’s Pelaverga DOC.
About Dolcetto. Wine Access.
Dawson, Evan. Dolcetto in Ovada Has Potential to Be More Than Pizza Wine. Palate Press. Jan 2012.