Grapes

DOLCETTO

Dolcetto is an iconic black grape from the Piedmont in Italy that produces dry red wines with a deep purple color.

dolcetto

DOLCETTO grape in a nutshell
  • Dolcetto is an iconic red grape from the Piedmont region in Italy that produces dry red wines with a deep purple color.
  • Once an extremely popular variety, it is now overshadowed by Nebbiolo and Barbera and total plantings are gradually shrinking.
  • Notable appellations devoted to Dolcetto include Dolcetto di Dogliani, Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba and Ovada.
DOLCETTO wine in a sip
  • The wines are usually dark and purple-ish, displaying winey aromas of bramble fruits, plums, violets, cocoa, and black pepper.
  • Medium to full-bodied, with moderate alcohol, the tannins can be astringent and the acidity is on the low to medium side.
  • They can be early-drinking or matured.

What is Dolcetto?

The red Dolcetto grape is widely cultivated in Piedmont in northwest Italy. In this iconic wine region, it’s often regarded as the third grape after Nebbiolo and Barbera and boasts several DOC and DOCG appellations.

While the vast majority of the Dolcetto production originates from Piedmont, this grape also appears in other regions of Italy, in Australia, and in the United States.

Early budding and earlier-ripening than Nebbiolo and Barbera, this grape has had mixed fortunes over the years – it was wildly popular when the focus of Piedmontese producers making big volumes of simple wines to pour in trattorias but began to lose ground with the rise to success of Nebbiolo. Today it is often planted in areas that are considered less than optimal for viticulture, and that is why it gets even less attention than Barbera. The challenges it poses to winemakers have further contributed to the decrease in total plantings: it has tannic and bitter seeds, so fruit has to undergo gentle pressing to prevent these components from being released and ruining the wine. Additionally, maceration at any stage of the winemaking process has to be short to avoid too much tannic extraction.

Even so, the best Dolcetto are lovely wines endowed with tremendous drinkability – radically different from top Nebbiolo but equally characterful. They are also among the budget-friendliest quality wines in Piedmont.

What are the origins of Dolcetto?

The first mention of Dolcetto appears in a document from the town of Dogliani dating back to 1593. It is likely, however, that the grape originated in Liguria and came to Piedmont via the salt route.

Dolcetto’s name means “little sweet one”, an ironic reference considering that it’s far from sweet. It probably refers to the beauty of its hilly vineyards rather than its flavor profile.

Dolcetto has about 100 synonyms, among which Nibiò is one of the most renowned and the most confusing – it would you trick into thinking about Nebbiolo but actually refers to a specific biotype of Dolcetto grown in the Ovada subzone that is recognizable from its red stalk.

Where is Dolcetto grown?

Dolcetto is mostly grown in Cuneo and Alessandria in the northwestern Piedmont region in Italy.

Devoted appellations in Piedmont include Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Dolcetto d’Asti DOC, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba Superiore DOCG, Dogliani Superiore Superiore DOCG, Ovada DOC and Ovada Superiore DOCG.

Dolcetto grows in other Italian regions for use in various DOC and IGT wines, notably Liguria just south of Piedmont, where it takes center stage in the Ormeasco di Pornassio DOC, producing both red and rosè wine.

What does Dolcetto taste like?

Mostly undergoing aging in stainless steel and hitting the shelves after a few months from harvest, Dolcetto-based wines are usually dark and impenetrable, almost inky.

They focus on winey aromas, bramble fruits, black pepper, and herbs, with hints of almonds and walnuts. It is not an extremely tannic variety but the tannins can be quite astringent, and the acidity is usually on the medium-low side.

Dolcetto lends itself well to light, fruity, early-drinking wines with some Italian appellations allowing for a Novello version. At the other end of the spectrum, the finest examples are richer, oak-aged, with plummy fruit allied to sweet spice and a refreshing herbal twist.

Does Dolcetto age well?

Most versions are best enjoyed within two to four years from release. On other hand, the best Dolcettos undergo longer aging in neutral oak and possess greater aging potential – up to 10-15 years. Dogliani and Ovada are the go-to appellations for age-worthy Dolcetto, which usually gains greater aromatic complexity without losing its distinctive purple-ish color and lovely fruit concentration.

What kind of wine is similar to Dolcetto?

Barbera has a similar color but it’s higher-acid and less tannic. Young and unoaked red wines produced with the Corvina Grape such as Bardolino and Valpolicella Classico may also have some fruity and winey traits in common but the truth is that Dolcetto is rather unique.

What food goes with Dolcetto wine?

Quality Dolcetto is a food-friendly wine that pairs well with a range of dishes. The key to successful food pairing is to keep in mind its black fruit profile plus its dry and medium acidity character.

It is usually the go-to wine in Piedmontese osterie, matching local charcuterie such as Prosciutto di Cuneo and salame cotto, tajarin pasta with sausage ragù and roasted Carmagnola rabbit.

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