Deliciously versatile so why is Dolcetto wine such a hard sell?
John Wilson: Four great buys of this all-purpose ‘little sweet one’ Italian
Is Dolcetto the Piemontese version of Beaujolais? Most wine books would have you think so. Like Gamay in Beaujolais, the Dolcetto grape in Piemonte produces fruit-filled wines that are ready to drink as soon as they are bottled. Both are low in alcohol, and therefore make great glugging wines, perfect served cool with plates of cheese, cold meats and other mixed antipasti.
The two varieties do have significant differences though; Dolcetto has thick skins and as a result the wines can be deeply coloured, and sometimes high in tannins too if the winemaker isn’t careful, while Gamay tends to be pale in colour, light in tannins with good acidity.
Dolcetto means “little sweet one” in Italian, so-called because it has low acidity. It is an early-ripening grape planted almost exclusively in Piemonte in northeast Italy. In the past it was often seen as a poor relation to the two other main grapes of the region, Barbera and Nebbiolo and therefore planted in inferior sites.
This is a little unfair on Dolcetto. Given favourable treatment, it can, again like Gamay in Beaujolais, produce some seriously good wines. These usually appear under the DOCG of Dogliani, until recently Dolcetto di Dogliani, a region just a few kilometres south of Barolo. Here, Dolcetto can be perfumed, full-bodied and powerful with intense ripe dark fruits. They also tend to be higher in alcohol. Two of the samples I tried were 14 per cent and 14.5 per cent alcohol and both were very good, balanced wines.
I enjoy Dolcetto, especially during the summer months. The really cheap versions can be very uninspiring but, trade up a little and you will be rewarded with some deliciously fruity, easy-drinking wines.
The lighter style of Dolcetto make great all-purpose wines to enjoy with mixed salads, charcuterie and cheeses. They also go nicely with lighter pasta dishes and plain pizzas.
The three less expensive wines here offer great value for money. The more full-bodied style of Dolcetto calls out for something with a bit more heft. They are great with all sorts of barbecue fare, and versatile enough to go with braised Piemontese beef stews, roast stuffed vegetables, or a roast of lamb or beef.
Talking to retailers, Dolcetto seems to be a hard sell. Perhaps it gets lost alongside all of the Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Piemonte produces a wide variety of great red and white wines, many from unique indigenous grapes. I suspect many of us stick to the tried and trusted names and pass by the others. Perhaps now is the time to go out and try Dolcetto?
Dosset Vino Rosso, Principiano
10.5%, €18.50- €19
Very light and refreshing, with lively juicy red fruits; alpine strawberries, raspberries and red cherries. Serve cool, not chilled. A nice party wine. From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,greenmanwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; SIYPS.com
Ascheri Dolcetto d’Alba Nirane 2019 Langhe Dolcetto, Ascheri
13%, €16.95 (down from €18.95)
A classic Dolcetto with ample soft, supple dark fruits and almonds. The finish is tannin free and smooth. With a mushrooms and pasta. From: O’Briens, Obrienswine.ie
Trediberri Dogliani Bricco Mollea 2019
An unfussy glass of pure dark ripe plummy fruits that will put a smile on your face. Try this with a pizza margherita or pasta with fresh herby tomatoes. From: Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Matson’s, Grange and Bandon, Stationtostationwine.ie.
Dogliani Superiore Vigneti Dolci 0217, San Fereolo
Robust, mouth-filling layers of pure sweet-savoury dark fruits with an attractive earthy edge. It finishes with some fine persistent tannins. This requires something substantial; grilled lamb or beef would be ideal. From: Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; SIYPS.com