Dolcetto is a black wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means "little sweet one", but it is not certain that the name originally carried any reference to the grape’s sugar levels: it is possible that it derives from the name of the hills where the vine is cultivated. In any case the wines produced are nearly always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate, or decidedly low, levels of acidity and are typically meant to be consumed one to two years after release.
One theory suggests that the grape originated in France and was brought to Monferrato some time in the eleventh century. A competing theory has the grape originating in the Piedmontese village of Dogliani. In 1593 an ordinance of the municipality of Dogliani which forbade the harvesting of dozzetti grapes earlier than Saint Matthew’s Day, unless an exceptional authorisation had been granted, has been taken to refer to this variety, which is still known in local dialects under the names ‘duzet’ and ‘duset’. A document of 1633 records the presence of Dolcetto in the cellars of the Arboreo family of Valenza. In 1700 Barnabà Centurione sent the wine as a gift to King George II of Great Britain.
Most Dolcetto is found in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, where many of the top estates produce Dolcetto on less favoured sites as an "early to market wine" to generate some income for the winery while the Nebbiolo and Barbera are being matured. It is particularly associated with the towns of Dogliani and Diano d'Alba in the province of Cuneo, although the greatest volumes come from around Alba and Ovada. The grape is also found in Liguria under the name Ormeasco, and in the Oltrepò Pavese where it is called Nebbiolo or Nibièu.
All but one of the 100% Dolcetto DOCs have two levels, the "standard" version typically requiring a minimum 11.5% ABV, the Superiore 12.5%. They are Dolcetto di Dogliani (DOCG since 2005), Dolcetto d'Acqui, Dolcetto d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Asti, Dolcetto delle Langhe Monregalesi, Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba, Dolcetto d'Ovada and Langhe Dolcetto (no Superiore). Riviera Ligure di Ponente Ormeasco requires >95% Dolcetto/Ormeasco; Colli Tortonesi Dolcetto, Monferrato Dolcetto and Pineronese Dolcetto a minimum of 85%, and Valsusa a minimum of 60%. Golfo Del Tigullio requires 20-70%, while Lago di Corbara and Rosso Orvietano can contain up to 20% Dolcetto.
Outside of Italy Dolcetto is known as Douce Noire in Savoie and Charbono in California. However, DNA fingerprinting done at the University of California, Davis have shown that the actual Douce Noire and Charbono vines are not, in fact, Dolcetto but two different vines. In spite of this confirmation, some plantings of true Dolcetto vines still retain the local synonyms in some areas of Savoie and California.
The grape was first brought to California by expatriate Italians and is most popular in Mendocino County, Russian River Valley AVA, Napa Valley AVA, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, and Santa Barbara County. There is also some plantings in the Oregon AVAs of Umpqua Valley AVA and Southern Oregon AVA as well as the state wide appellations of New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
Australia is home to the oldest current plantings of Dolcetto with vines dating back to the 1860s.
Dolcetto di Dogliani
Dolcetto di Dogliani, and Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore are Italian red wines produced in the Langhe using only the Dolcetto grape variety. The wines were recognized as DOC in 1974. In 2005 the original DOC for Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore was revoked and replaced by a DOCG; this wine, which can also be sold under the name Dogliano is made within a more limited zone than the DOC and the yield of grapes is restricted to 70 quintals per hectare. Furthermore, to qualify for the DOCG status the wines must be aged for at least one year. The vineyards are restricted to the hilly areas within the boundaries of the communes of Bastia Mondovì, Belvedere Langhe, Cigliè, Clavesana, Dogliani, Farigliano, Monchiero and Rocca Cigliè, plus parts of the communes of Cissone and Somano
Viticulture and winemaking
Dolcetto wines are known for black cherry and licorice flavors with some prunes and a characteristically bitter finish reminiscent of almonds. While the name implies sweetness, the wines are normally dry. The tannic nature of the grape contributes to a characteristic bitter finish. The dark purple skin of Dolcetto grapes have high amounts of anthocyanins in them which require only a short maceration time with the skin to produce a dark colored wine. The amount of skin contact affects the resulting tannin levels in the wine with most winemakers preferring to limit maceration time to as short as possible. During fermentation the wine is prone to the wine fault of reduction
The Dolcetto di Boca, grown in the Novarese, is quite distinct, while the rare Piedmontese Dolcetto bianco is an unrelated white grape.
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