Some wines beg to be analyzed. Sometimes, it’s all about going in depth to taste and learn about that glass of wine. But on an average weekday night, most people, most of the time, just want to enjoy a glass. That’s what Dolcetto is for.
One of Dolcetto’s biggest names out there is Clavesana, a winery located in the township of the same name just outside of Dogliani in the Langhe, less than 15 miles south of Barolo. We spoke with the winery’s Director Anna Bracco to gain some insight into where Dolcetto is now, and why you need to start opting for this Piemontese wine as your daily glass.
"Dolcetto is a great wine. It’s elegant, authentic,
fruity, and pairs easily with many foods.” Anna Bracco
The winemaking life
One of the most traditional ways of living a vinicultural life in Piemonte has always been to grow grapes and sell them; or buy grapes and make wine. Nowadays, wine writers write about single producers, precious labels, and long family histories; but working as a cooperative is just as traditional and noble in its own way. Clavesana employs 350 families of the area, making it an important pillar of the local economy. For many of the families, who own small to medium areas of vineyards, this is the only possible way to continue working the land like their forebears have done for decades or even longer.
Clavesana has been a cooperative since it was founded in 1959. Here in the higher hills in southern Langhe, Dolcetto has always been cultivated. This grape and wine makes up 75% of Clavesana’s total production.
Dolcetto: the grape, the wine, and the occasion (anytime)
In Piemonte, land of noble Nebbiolo, the daily wine of choice is something much less complex than Barolo or Barbaresco (and less expensive). The Piemontese most often opt for a bottle of Barbera or Dolcetto, or stay charmingly local wherever they live and drink Freisa, Ruché, Grignolino, Roero Arneis, or any number of other local varieties.
But Barbera and Dolcetto are the two big names. Both have suffered somewhat from their past reputations as being too rustic or abrasive, and indeed, thirty-five years ago, producers made them with as much attention as is usually afforded a simple table wine. That is to say, not much at all. That turned around in the 1980s with Barbera (read The Lady in Red from Crisis to Rebirth), but there was no spotlight that shone on any one comeback moment for Dolcetto. Instead, it has steadily been growing in quality and appreciation—both within and, to a lesser extent, outside of the region. Today, Dolcetto is very approachable and can even show itself to be complex. Its charm, however, lies in its everyday drinkability and ease of pairing with just about anything. Anna Bracco sums it up well: “Dolcetto is a great wine. It’s elegant, authentic, fruity, and pairs easily with many foods.”
Dolcetto: little sweet one?
Dolcetto is mostly grown and made in the Langhe and Monferrato, and is the third-most cultivated variety in Piemonte after Barbera and Moscato. It is a dry red wine made from 100% of the Piemontese dolcetto variety, and is often seen as Dolcetto d'Alba, Dolcetto di Dogliani, or Dolcetto d'Asti (among others; see below). It is more tannic than acidic, and for this does not usually age well, and has juicy notes of cherry, red fruit, and an almost bitter, almond aftertaste. Odd, then, that to anyone who knows a lick of Italian, its name seems to mean “little sweet one,” for dolce means “sweet;” but in fact it could be a variation on the Piemontese word for “little hill,” dusset.
Many say that the hills surrounding Dogliani produce the best expression of the grape, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG. “The terroir is different than the land closer to Alba,” says Anna Bracco. “Here, the soil is bianco,” or “white,” meaning it is light in color from a high amount of calcareous tufa soils and clay. “But the most important difference is the elevation. Higher hills like these in Dogliani mean a bigger temperature difference between night and day, but when you get closer to Alba the nights are warmer. In the Dogliani area, the coolness of the nighttime helps retain its signature flavors of cherry and red fruits.”
Dolcetto is rarely aged in wood. Barrel aging can give a wine added complexity and depth, but when overused it overpowers the grape until all you’re drinking is wood (and vanilla, a taste that comes from oak). In the past, Dolcetto was never aged in barrels. “We have always and only used stainless steel and, for our Superiore, cement to age our Dolcetto. We believe that wood diminishes the innate characteristics of the variety, particularly the cherry.”
Dolcetto is meant to be drunk young, but lately Anna Bracco says it has surprised Clavesana for its potential complexity. Bottling it for a little bit longer, such as their Superiore, can give it an unexpected, rich fullness. “Even just a few years ago we didn’t think of Dolcetto as a meditation wine, but in some cases it can be.” In fact, she reports that, “During a tasting in northern Europe, some of our clients actually believed we aged our Dolcetto in wood, especially with the Superiore. Aging it for a little bit longer gives the impression of fullness.” Note that “aging” means half a year or a bit more, not the ten years plus of a Barolo.
What will you have with dinner?
But we said that Dolcetto is a great wine for drinking, not thinking. So let’s get down to what a wine lover is really interested in: how do you know which Dolcetto to choose?
The top three types of Dolcetto in terms of quality are generally thought to be Dolcetto di Dogliani, Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba, and Dolcetto d’Ovada (which will be more difficult to find). Read more about each one with our Mini-Guide to Dolcetto. This is not to exclude other types of Dolcetto you might find, too, however: d'Asti, d'Acqui, and d'Alba are three others, their names distinguishing their areas of production.
Finally, we asked Anna Bracco which vintages to look for. Being a young wine, she mentioned recent vintages of the past five years. Roughly in order of quality for Dolcetto di Dogliani, opt for 2011, 2013, and 2012. 2015 has not yet been released by Clavesana, but she says, “We’re very excited about it! It might be the best in recent years.”
Now we know what we’re having with dinner.
Tel. +39 0173 790451
Cantina Clavesana S.c.a.
Frazione Madonna della Neve, 19
12060 Clavesana (CN)