When you think of Piedmont, money’s on the first thought being – naturally – of Nebbiolo. The austerely structured reds of Barolo and Barbaresco hold a mythical sway for devotees of fine wine. Expensive and age worthy; these bottles are slick with the perfume of WSET-textbook and tar and roses.
It’s an unmistakably Piedmontese flavour profile, so it’s to the credit of the region’s young (and youngish) innovators that they push the subversion of expectation with a wine which is the antithesis of all these things.
Dolcetto is not prestigious. For many years it has been Piedmont’s happy workhorse, its economic saviour – a fact which winemakers are now choosing to celebrate.
Happy grown in almost any vineyard position, it maximises the yield of every nook and cranny in every vineyard otherwise given over to tempestuous Nebbiolo and second-string favourite, Barbera. It ripens early, has low acid, firm, food-friendly tannins and an enchanting profile of bright fruit – plum, raspberry and violet are common tasting notes – with a lick of peppery spice on the finish.
All these attributes added up to an inexpensive, approachable red suited to short maceration, meaning it’s in and out of the cellar in time to make way for the big guns. It’s as flirty and fun as its French cousin, Beaujolais Nouveau. And just as BoJo is having a renaissance, so too is Dolcetto. In the DOCG of Dogliani, for example, Dolcetto shows what it can do when given a prime site and some tlc, producing plush, exuberant but mineral reds with real depth and interest.
Though perhaps, the frivolity of Dolcetto’s natural inclination is perhaps its undoing. How can anyone take seriously the grape planted to plug gaps?
In this and other ways, Dolcetto could be seen as a victim of Piedmont’s hierarchy. But Dolcetto’s charm lies in its fresh-faced simplicity. Winemakers have striven to elevate Barbera – to age it for longer, expose it to more oak – to make it a more serious wine; a challenger to Nebbiolo. The charm of Dolcetto is how, when left to its own devices, it is winningly itself.
Expressly Italianate with the sweet-bitter contrast of flavours and earthy, tannic palate, Dolcetto’s what they drink in Piedmonte. It’s high time we started drinking it too.