What’s really a bummer about Italian Dolcetto is that it’s so hard to find a good one here in California! Most importers don’t bother much with it. Instead they import big hefty and pricey Nebbiolo and important, age-worthy Barbera. Maybe they’re thinking Dolcetto isn’t as complex as the other wines, hasn’t won all the lofty points from the press, doesn’t have the longevity, or simply just isn’t worth the investment of space and shipping per bottle.
But what are most of us drinking? What are we all looking for? We — each and every wine drinker — are always in search of that wonderful little gem with an attractive price tag. Most of us are not cracking $50 to $100 bottles of wine on a daily basis. (And if you are, well my goodness! Invite me over!)
So I just don’t get why we don’t have more of the “good” Italian Dolcetto here. It can be an economical choice and offer a ton of value. In Piedmont it’s great: you can score a great bottle of artisan, small batch, organically farmed, old vine Dolcetto for six to eight Euro — easily. Here in California, the only California wine you can get for six to eight bucks is mass-produced, vanilla-injected, glycerin-laced, sour-grape juice garbage.
Dolcetto is a marvelous little grape, with intense flavors packed in its juice and great tannins in its skin. It doesn’t need, nor does it usually do well with, extensive oak aging. The fact that wine makers need only to keep it in stainless steel for a few months before bottling helps to keep its price down. Typically a Dolcetto wine throws out a big bouquet of dark fruit, earth, and flowers. Its flavors can range from ripe, black plums to delicate raspberries and strawberries. The best ones will keep a structure of lush and sweet tannins for at least a few years. All this for a little price tag! What else could you ask for?
Given the fact that we just aren’t exposed to a lot of wonderful Dolcetto here in California, I decided to bring home some of my favorites from Piedmont last fall and share them in a blind tasting with my tasting group to see what people thought. I also wanted to compare some of my favorite Barolista-made Dolcetto with some serious Dogliani Dolcetto to see how they compared. The following are the five Dolcetto I presented.
Mauro Veglio Dolcetto d’Alba 2011. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Dark magenta, totally opaque, with a bright pink rim. Condensed aromas with pine, blueberry, marionberry, and olive. Lots of sweet tannins, but no bitterness or anything rough. Just a big bowl full of perfectly ripe and scrumptious berries. The 30-40 year old vines grow in the communes of La Morra and Monforte d’Alba. They’re at about 250m elevation, both with a northeast exposure. ★★☆
Conterno Fantino Bricco Bastia 2011. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Dark magenta, totally opaque, with a bright pink rim. Quite floral with a balance of roses, raspberries, and cherries. Very tight on the palate with lots of tannins and a little bitterness on the finish. Maybe the wine just needs a few months, especially given the Monforte soil, which contributes a lot of staying power to wines. These 15 year old vines are located on the Bricco Bastia hill (altitude = 520m) in Monforte d’Alba. ★
Mario Marengo Dolcetto d’Alba 2011. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Purple and opaque, with a pink rim. Thick and heavy with a menthol and forest character. Complex and condensed — really beautiful wine offering so many interesting flavors: cearth, coconut, blueberries, blackberries, lime essence. The 55 year old vines grow in the commune of Castiglione Falletto (and the altitude of the vineyard is thus probably on the lower side compared to the other wines reviewed here). ★★★
Anna Maria Abbona Maioli 2009. Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG. Dark magenta, totally opaque, with a bright pink rim. In the bouquet violets, blackberry syrup, and moss. Concentrated and ephemeral, changing in the glass. The finish is hot and spicy. The Maoili vineyard in Dogliani (south of Monforte d’Alba) is very old. The family planted one section in 1936 and another plot in 1943. It sits at 500m and has a steep, south/southwest-facing slope. ★★
Anna Maria Abbona San Bernardo 2007. Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG. Brick red to ruby red with a more orangey and thin rim than the others. Forest floor, cellar floor, lots of earth, all interlaced with a dark red berry syrup. Supple tannins with an overlay of moss and a beam of bright lime juice. Given the age of this bottle (I actually brought this bottle home two years ago), the age of the vines, and that this one does see some oak, it stood out from the rest. In fact, this is the only one in this group that does see any oak at all. The rest stay in stainless steel for only a few months. The San Bernardo rests in very large oak barrels for 18 months before bottling. Anna Maria carefully chose this wine making technique for this particular wine because she thought it needed it. It wasn’t an uneducated decision. And it works. The San Bernardo vineyard, also in Dogliani, was planted in 1943 like Maioli, but faces south/southeast. ★★☆
Personally, while I could have completely filled up my international shipper with expensive bottles of Barolo, I am glad I didn’t! Each and every one of these bottles was worth the space and shipping cost. They were all great and a huge success. The Dolcetto from the Barolo producers run about 8-10 Euro per bottle in Italy. If you can find them in The States, they’re at least double that price. The Anna Maria wines are a little more at about 11-13 Euro per bottle, and equally double here in the US… but still a good $20 bottle in California is a pretty sweet find — especially when it’s Dolcetto!