Italy’s Piedmont region is surrounded on three sides by the majestic alps. From striking mountain peaks to rolling hills, long summer days, and refreshing nights, this is a land of noble of wines. In fact, Italy is a land of a multitude of wines. Over the years I have learned that the count ranges from 2000-3500. Oftentimes when I quote these numbers I am also reminded that only about 700 varietals are used to produce wines of repute.
Today I am joined by fellow sommelier and longtime friend, Serena Dutto. She is a graduate of Italy’s prestigious, Associazione Italia Sommelier (AIS). Serena invited me to her hometown of Dogliani, in the Cuneo region, to experience some of the local wines. Serena is also fluent in the local dialects of Piedmontese and Occitan. I know that the week will not only be filled with interesting wines, but a strong dose of local history and Serena’s flair for the lifestyle of Piedmontese.
From our terrace view of the Osteria Vineria il Torchio, we are free to enjoy the tranquility of this lovely town of less than 5000 people. Dogliani dates back to the 16th century, and wine cultivation in the surrounding hills, dates back to pre-Roman times. A time when the Etruscans were the dominate peoples.
“I love to sit here, drink wine, and thank God I returned home.” Serena quietly smiled.
“Come now, Rome could not have been all that bad,” I queried. “After all you were a sommelier in one of the “Eternal City’s” finest restaurants.
Serena patted me on the hand and changed the subject, “Let’s drink some wine.”
Sensing her discomfort and reluctance to further discuss the topic, I nodded in agreement. “Dolcetto?’
“Dolcetto Dogliani,” Serena was quick to correct me.
Dolcetto is a lovely wine that dates back to the late 16th century. It is a black wine grape varietal grown throughout the Piedmont region. The translation means “little sweet one.” I first discovered Dolcetto back in my university days at the Claremont Colleges. Unfortunately, I misunderstood the name, I assumed it was sweet. Since my date loved sweet wine, I thought I’d be a hit. She did not care for the wine and I did not fair much better. However, I found my daily drinker. Since then, I have been having a long running love affair with my “little sweet one.”
No one is quite sure how the name Dolcetto came about. Certainly not with regard to the wine’s sugar levels. Dolcetto is typically dry. The wine can be tannic and fruity, and drinks best after 1 to 2 years after release. Serena, along with the majority of the local population believe that the name Dolcetto is derived from the hills where the vine thrives.
When most Americans are first introduced to Dolcetto, oftentimes their first exposure is to the wines of D’Alba. Though this is area is renown for viticulture, the Dolcetto that is produced is just not as bold as the wines of Dogliani. Many of the wines of Dogliani are ‘Superiore.’ A designation that pertains to wines aged a minimum of 14 months. Wines from D’Alba are meant to be drunk young and are an excellent choice for pizza and pasta dishes.
“Ah, our food and our first wine has arrived.” Serena looked over our table ensuring that all was just as she instructed. To my delight, there was an array of salty cured meats, pungent cheeses, and Serena’s favorite, tajamin. This is a local pasta from Langhe, and found more often in homes rather than restaurants.
“What is our first selection?”
“I know you will be pleased with this one,” Serena smiled with anticipation. “A Romana Carlo 2003.” She then filled our glasses and toasted, “Cin cin. Did you know that this informal toast originates from the sound that the two glasses make when they are touched together?”
“But of course,” I smiled. “The wine is excellent. This single-vineyard Dolcetto is concentrated and juicy.”
“I agree, a most impressive wine. I especially like the way the raspberry and black cherry flavors have rounded out.”
I smiled in agreement. “An earthy wine indeed. The finely polished tannins and good palate length make for a sophisticated mouthfeel. The finish is strikingly long and textured with excellent depth of flavor. I’d say about 13.5%”
“Gregorio, I think you will be equally pleased with our second selection,” Serena was quick to present the bottle. “ A Poderi Luigi Einaudi 2003.”
This is a top-notch Dolcetto. Virtually every year the wines of Einaudi feature masses of bold dark fruit. Black cherries, plums, and some hints of spice.”
“I also pick up the hint of cinnamon and clove. There are also some tarry notes that I know you enjoy,” Serena smiled.
“This is a big , full-bodied tannic Dolcetto at 13% alcohol and drinks very well.”
“Luigi Einaudi is the oldest wine-making company in Dogliani. They have been making interesting wines since they bought the San Giancomo estate back in 1897.”
“Interesting,” I nodded in approval. “What is our final selection?”
“Our first wine would be priced at under $20 a bottle. My second choice would be closer to $30 per bottle. I decided to not concern myself with price on our final selection.”
Now I was intrigued. Sitting at the edge of my seat, I could hardly wait to see what Serena had selected for our enjoyment.
“I selected a Poderi Luigi Einudi 2006 I Filari.”
This is an exceptional expression of Dolcetto. The wine is filled with licorice and earthy aromas. The palate is somewhat intense and laced with boysenberry flavors that linger on the long finish. This wine is 14% alcohol and would definitely benefit from a couple of years of aging.
Being quite familiar with this wine I flashed Serena a quick smile. “Not overly expensive. I’d say about $45 a bottle.”
“Remember Gregorio, the average person is buying Dolcetto as a daily drinker or a wine to go with pizza and pasta,” Serena said flatly.
“True, but over the past decade Dolcetto has gained in repute.”
“Possibly, I just feel that someone who is interested in the wines of Piedmont will always think first of Barolo or possibly Barbaresco.” Serena’s tone bordered on insistent.
“You forget that as much as I love Barolo, I first discovered Dolcetto.”
Serena flashed me a quick grin. “I think you discovered Dolcetto before you could afford Barolo.”
Joining her merriment, I nodded in agreement. “Shall we make a move?”
“I feel like eating some torta dei tetti and introducing you to some of our more obscure local wines.”
“But that my friends is a different story …