The Challenges and Rewards of Dolcetto

Dolcetto GrapesDolcetto is Barolo’s “everyday” wine, the bottle winemakers and vineyard crews pop open to enjoy with a hearty lunch built around leftover roasted meat, eggplant, roasted tomatoes and plenty of garlic or with an afternoon snack of salty cheese and savory salami.

The name is from the dialect for “little sweet,” which confusingly refers to the berries’ size and low acidity – Dolcetto wine is always bone dry even when full of fruit flavors.

Tricky to Make
The challenge of Dolcetto is that, while it sells for less than Barbera or Nebbiolo, it’s actually harder to make into a good wine! The small berries give masses of fruit and color – nothing wrong with that! – but also contain a big load of astringent tannins. The low acidity means it’s harder to keep the wine free of bacterial problems during fermentation, and aging Dolcetto wine is maddingly prone to developing reductive flavors (think burnt rubber).

With both Barolo and Barbera prices soaring in recent years, much of Barolo’s Dolcetto is being ripped out and replaced with those more lucrative grapes.

But Barolo legend Domenico Clerico was never one to follow the crowd. In fact, he launched his career as an iconic Barolo master with a humble Dolcetto. He inherited three hectares of Dolcetto vines in 1976 and released his first vintage in 1978. Even as his Barolo fame and vineyards grew and many Barolo neighbors began ripping out Dolcetto in favor of Nebbiolo and Barbera, he never stopped caring passionately about this wine.

A Barolo Master’s Dolcetto
Domenico’s Dolcetto vines grow on the edges of Domenico’s Barolo vineyards, and are grown with meticulous care, minimal intervention and very low yields. The ripe fruit comes in early – 3-4 weeks before Barbera – and is crushed gently and fermented briskly and briefly – just five days before pressing off into cool stainless steel tanks. This careful approach locks in all of Dolcetto’s glorious fruit, keeps the tannins soft and supple, and lets the friendlier side of Dolcetto shine.

In 2018, a fine growing season, Clerico’s Dolcetto is loaded with just-picked fruit aromas and flavors – cherry, raspberry and blackberries all tasting like they’ve come right off the vine. On both the nose and palate, you’ll get a savory, floral, lavender note, a hint of black licorice, and a nice bite of something like almond skin on the bold, juicy, black-fruited finish. There’s a good dose of firm tannin – it is Dolcetto, after all! – but the tannins are round and caressing and do the work acidity normally would, making your mouth water, not dry out.

And, for summer sipping, it takes a chill with style – 30 minutes in the fridge or a few minutes on ice adds to the crispness without suppressing the fruit one little bit. This is a great “House Red,” perfect for whatever you’re putting on the table on a Tuesday night or setting out to sip with nibbles during a socially distanced happy hour.

While it lasts, you can grab a case or two from $14.98, the very best we can find anywhere in the USA. Enjoy!

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