"Wine. The intellectual part of the meal."   …. Alexandre Dumas

What’s your favorite every day wine for Italian food?  For many Italians, it’s Dolcetto. The same wine wonderland that gives us the Nebbiolo grape in Barolo and Barbaresco wines, and luscious romantic Amarones , happily consumes Dolcetto around the family dinner tables of Piedmont.  Unlike in the U.S. where consumers enjoy aisles of wines from across the globe, most of the world drinks the wine of their locale. There are seven Dolcetto appelations,  
Dolecetto d’Alba producing the most (“d” meaning of/from, “Alba” being the appellation). Many experts believe the best Dolcettos come from Dogliani (a D.O.C.G.), but I would not exclude Alba, and certainly not that of Elio Grasso.

Alba (a D.O.C.) sometimes gets dismissed by the “wine snobs” because the dolcetto grape there is relegated to third position behind the nebbiolo and barbera grapes.  And while it’s true that nebbiolo rules, it’s also true that Elio Grasso makes excellent Barolo from the nebbiolo grape (I’ve enjoyed it) but also treats their dolcetto with respect and care for its own unique character.  And it’s also true that wines from this producer are well priced (this bottle $17) as is Dolcetto generally. That’s why Italians drink it.

The Elio Grasso I enjoyed should drink well into next year. Dolcettos, as a rule, should be enjoyed within four years of vintage. For Italian wines, that’s an eye blink. That’s also the wine’s charm.  Dolcettos generally have low acid, are “soft styled”, fruity (not sweet) and offer gentle spicy aromas and hints of earthiness.  These are casual drinking, everyday wines that don’t require a critic’s analytical dissection – just enjoyment alongside a meal.  With this, they also provide the typical “old world” push-pull of balance between fruit and earth.  The challenge winemakers have with this grape
is its high acid, which can make for wine with a bitter finish.  But this can be controlled by limiting maceration time.

I tasted two other Dolcettos – (both well rated) and from the Alba region. One (priced 35% higher) will go unnamed and indeed suffered from a tannic finish that literally “burnt” the wine’s fruit).  Elio Grasso (for me) excelled in its finish.  Having limited skin contact virtually eliminated bitterness and added to the wine’s universal appeal. The skin of the dolcetto grape is also high in anthocyanins, so despite limiting skin contact, the color of Elio Grasso’s Dolcetto wine is an attractive dark ruby.

The nose, often slight in this varietal, was strong with plum and prune and followed through on the taste with ripe plum and some blackberry and whispered hints of earthiness.  Its mouthfeel was luscious, a real tongue coater. Tannins were evident in the finish but well managed and enjoyable.  I didn’t detect any taste of almonds, common in this varietal, but suspect that is simply my palette.  For comparison, I tasted a 2013 Elio Grasso ($16) Dolcetto d’Alba and enjoyed a consistency of aroma and tastes despite the wine being of different vintage.

I also enjoyed a 2013 Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba ($19).  For those preferring a lighter style, this wine offers an alternative with a lighter (and perhaps) more nuanced nose and delicate taste. With no harsh tannins (the color is virtually identical to Elio Grasso’s) it offers high notes of cherry, but is more singular in its profile than the lusher Elio Grasso.  Not a “tongue coater,” the wine is lighter bodied.  Whether that’s a plus or a minus is 100% a matter of personal preference.  I poured a “blind” sample of each wine for my guest. Then, on a piece of paper, I wrote “number 2”.  After she announced her preference (which was #2 – the Vietti), I showed her the paper.  I could enjoy either wine, though I preferred the more “masculine” Elio Grasso.  She preferred the Vietti.
Still, recommendations are expected, so here is mine:  At your next Italian meal, forgo the straw wrapped bottle of Chianti and try a Dolcetto.  If it’s a dinner party, try a few different bottles and collect opinions.  Before you know it, conversation will fill the lull between courses and your guests will be raving later about what a great dinner party they enjoyed.


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Alc:                         13.5%
Imported by              Connoisseur Wines, Niles IL/

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