Dolcetto, a wine for all seasons

Only among epicures as exigent as the Piedmontese would Dolcetto be considered a wine for every day. In the Alba area, Dolcetto is sometimes known affectionately as “Barolino” and considered the wine to go with the opening courses, invariably giving way to Barolo or Barbaresco with the main course.

As a longtime devotee, I consider Dolcetto not secondary to Barolo or Barbaresco but a splendid alternative, outshining its august cousins as a versatile match for many more dishes in the grand tradition of Piedmontese cooking—beginning with the sumptuous array of antipasti but not ending there. In other words: a wine for all seasons.

 Outside of Piedmont, Dolcetto has never made the impact it deserves. This is due in part to its reputation as a red to drink young—some liken it absurdly to Beaujolais nouveau—conditioning consumers to avoid even moderately aged versions of the wine. Also the term dolcetto, which refers to the sweetness of the grapes, can confuse consumers because modern wines are invariably dry.

In places in Piedmont, Dolcetto prevails, not only in the vineyards but in the hearts of the people. Once such place is Dogliani in the Langhe hills to the south of the Barolo zone, which claims to be the birthplace of the vine. There Dolcetto dominates the slopes—unlike in Barolo and Barbaresco where Nebbiolo commands the privileged plots known as bricco or sorì—and the wine is known proudly as Dogliani DOCG. The same can be said for Diano d’Alba, bordering the Barolo zone to the east, where Dolcetto is also DOCG and where 77 special plots have been singled out as sorì.

 I recently tasted through a series of vintages of Dogliani, dating back to a remarkably vital 2003 from San Fereolo. That and other wines indicated that Dolcetto grown in favorable conditions has aging capacities similar to wines from Nebbiolo. Aged Barolo and Barbaresco tend to show greater finesse and complexity in bouquet and flavor, but aged Dogliani tends to retain richer color and body and more vigorous sensations on the nose and palate.

That thought came to mind as I savored a Dogliani Superiore Maioli 2018 from Anna Maria Abbona, a wine of deep mulberry color and luscious grapy scents that gratifies the palate with ripe berry flavors and hints of almond and cacao buoyed by sturdy tannins through a bracing finish. And I had no doubt that the wine would hold its own for well over a decade.

 The wines of Dogliani showed their versatility through a full-range Piedmontese feast that I enjoyed with a group of winemakers. That took in antipasti, including carne cruda (raw ‘granda’ beef chopped by hand with a light marinade), exquisite stuffed yellow and red bell peppers, and cardi gobbi gratinati (cardoons au gratin).

 It was November so the white tartufi d’Alba were shaved over nearly everything, notably the ribbon noodles called tajarin. We rounded out the meal with gran bollito misto alla piemontese an extravagant array of simmered meats taking various cuts of beef and veal, including tongue, brains and tail, cotechino sausage and capon served with seven sauces, including bagnet vert (a version of salsa verde) and bagnet ross (a peppery tomato sauce). Needless to say there were seven desserts, but they were served with a bubbly Moscato d’Asti. All the other dishes from antipasti through tajarin con tartufi and bollito misto went enviably well with bottles of Dogliani from various vintages

Toward the end of the meal one of the vignaioli remarked, “Barolo may be a wine for special occasions, but Dolcetto makes any occasion special.” We happily drank to that.

Some recommendations of Dolcetto (among the many):

 Dogliani Superiore Maioli 2018 Anna Maria Abbona

Dogliani Superiore Sirì d’Jermu 2019 Pecchenino

Dogliani Briccolero 2020 Quinto Chionetto

Dogliani 2012 San Fereolo

Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba 2018 Bricco Maiolica

Diano d’Alba Sorì dei Crava 2020 Giovanni Abrigo

Diano d’Alba Sorì Autin Gross 2020 Fratelli Savigliano

Diano d’Alba La Lepre 2017 Fontanafredda

Dolcetto d’Alba Basarin 2019 Castello di Neive

Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati 2019 G.D. Vajra