Dolcetto (Dol-chetto) is a lovely red wine to have at hand, in case of an Indian Summer. The name loosely translates as little sweet one, referring to the grape and not to the wine. Dolcetto harks back to the days before wine makers began to beef-up their product and push up the alcohol levels. This is a rather old fashioned red wine, but one full of subtlety. The grapes with their deep, dark purple skins have been cultivated for centuries in the Piedmont region of extreme north-west Italy. Dolcetto, recorded as Dozzetti, is mentioned in reports from the village of Dogliani, in 1593, and was exported to Britain in the early 1700s. George II received a gift of Dolcetto wine in 1727.
During fermentation, the heavily coloured skins, high in anthocyanin, rapidly impart a deep hue to the developing wine. Dark ruby in colour, newly bottled Dolcetto is ready for immediate consumption, full of ripe berry flavours, a little on the dry side. There is always a touch of bitterness, well suited to an adult palate. Alcohol level will either be at the Standard 11.5%, or the Superiore 12.5% ABV. This is the way wines used to be and, to this day, perfectly suited to sipping on a summer's day. The complexity of the Dolcetto will be best brought out if served at 55 - 60 degrees F (12 - 16 Celsius). It truly is a terrific tipple but, if you don't like your red wines dry, it will not be for you. All the natural sugars of the grape have been fermented out.
For those who appreciate Dolcetto, the story gets better. There are seven distinct styles of this wine, known as D.O.Cs. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Most popular is Dolcetto d'Albla, full bodied, low acidity and with a dark berries flavour. Dolcetto de Dogliani has less body and presents with plums and dark chocolate on the palate. For strong tannins and a bitter chocolate, the Dolcetto delle Langhe Monregalesi is the one to seek. Returning towards the prototype, Dolcetto d'Acqui is certainly dry, with a slight nuttiness and a hint of bitterness. Dolcetto di Ovada is dry with almond undertones and very fruity. If not drunk young, the wonderful fruit flavours in all these wines will quickly fade away.
Although long popular in south-west Piedmont, and emigrated over the Apennine Mountains, the Dolcetto vine has not travelled widely. Oregon, New Mexico and Pennsylvania produce Dolcetto. In California it is also known as Charbono. The oldest export is found in Australia, planted there in 1864. Back in Italy, as befits a grape of ancient pedigree, Dolcetto has a whole host of synonyms, Dolsin and Ormeasco being the most common. Irrespective of the name on the bottle, Dolcetto can be identified by intense colour, fruity aromas and that bitter aftertaste.