I've had a love/hate relationship with dolcetto for years now. People tend to be surprised when I tell them that I don't really like dolcetto, and don't really buy much. What I really should have been saying for the past decade or so was that I didn't like the direction dolcetto had taken, and as so often happens with these things the pendulum has begun to swing in the direction I prefer!
In all honesty this really started happening about 2009 or so, but these last few, very cool vintages in Piedmont have helped accelerate that shift. Many of the wines I tasted on my recent visit to the region were absolutely gorgeous, which for me means that they were light bodied, relatively low-alcohol examples of dolcetto that celebrated the racy purity and soft forest floor complexity that the best examples offer. To be sure there are super fresh examples as well as more powerfully built wines that are essentially made in this style, but across the board the wines I've tasted recently just show more dolcetto character, and less overt winemaking that had been the case just five short years ago.
These are remarkably friendly wines today, just the way they should be. Easy to drink and enjoy and wonderfully friendly at the table. They combine a gentle brush of tannin in the mouth with fresh and sprightly acidity. Neither as tannic as freisa for example, nor as acidic as barbera, today's dolcetto fits its role as the everyman's, and every meal's wine.
For the most part these wines work best with savory foods that are neither too fatty nor too acidic. Salumi are a classic partner, as well as simple risotto and pasta dishes though I find dolcetto really excels with medium intense meat dishes which can range from grilled chicken to simple hamburgers and my favorite: seared pork chops marinated in garlic, herbs, and wine.
One of the historic problems of dolcetto is that it is a wine very prone to reduction, which produces a bit of a stinky nose. With today's understanding and technology there is no excuse for reduced wines, all one needs to do is to introduce oxygen into the aging wine to prevent this from occurring. Of course one has to remain vigilant while performing pump-overs to avoid reduction because if one is a bit too enthusiastic you could end up with an wine that lacks freshness and brightness due to oxidation. Many producers will tell you that dolcetto is the most challenging wine to produce in Piedmont. I'm glad so many producers have undertaken the challenge, returning dolcetto to its roots, and in small part to my table.
What follows is a list of the wines I tasted on my recent visits. As usual the wine reviews have a point score attached to them. While this is an important part of communicating about wine it is all too often given some supra-natural significance and people miss out on fantastic wines, and fantastic wine experiences because they are all caught up in the score alone. Case in point, I love the simple purity of the 88 point Elio Grasso and Elvio Cogno wines. Are they the "best" examples of dolcetto I tried? No they are not, the lack the power and complexity of the best, but they are freaking delicious and perfect examples of what dolcetto should be.
A few producers can make excellent dolcetto in a more complex or more powerful style. This of course is due to the fact that some winemakers are more skilled and some sites provide better raw materials. Everyone else should aspire to the heights the simple yet beautiful dolcetto of Grasso and Cogno reach. These are just such beautiful wines, nothing is forced and everything is in balance, which of course makes them easy to drink, which, along with being delicious, is the first obligation of any wine. I hope, and do believe that we are moving past the more is better era of winemaking, and even though this simple, racy style of dolcetto can reveal any flaws in winemaking my hope is that winemakers no longer rely on crutches like extraction and oak, but rather work to refine their wines to the point where they can stand on their own.
There are wines for most palates here, so take a look at the list that follows and see if you can find a dolcetto thats right for yours. And if you, like me, didn't find much to like in dolcetto-land over the past decade or so; do yourself a favor and give Dolcetto another chance. I have a feeling you'll be glad that you did!
— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth