1 mars 2019 — Under the Influence

UNDER THE INFLUENCE : D is for Dolcetto... and Dogliani !

Theo Diamantis
Co-Fondateur d'Oenopole

At oenopole, our love for the wines of Piemonte is unconditional. We simply cannot get enough! We are in awe with the versatility of Nebbiolo on different terroirs. From the volcanic soils of Boca and Bramaterra, to the limestone-rich vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco, Nebbiolo can express itself in ways that make it the king of grapes, and in turn, the wine of kings (as the piemontese are fond of saying). But there is a grape that lives in the shadow of Nebbiolo that is also capable of making GREAT wines of beguiling perfume, complexity, depth, finesse and longevity. And that my friends, is Dolcetto. It’s a grape that is often used by Barolo and Barbaresco producers to make cheerful, easy-drinking wine that play second or third fiddle to Nebbiolo. An exception to this is the DOCG appellation of Dogliani, where Dolcetto is the king of kings.

Located in southern Piemonte, Dogliani is a commune located about 60 kilometers southeast of Turin. Geologically, it is an extension of the limestone shelf of Monforte d’Alba, and a beautiful series of rolling hills. It is also dotted with hazelnut orchards and plenty of pasture and forest. Dogliani received the DOCG, the highest order of quality in the Italian classification in 2005 (with a DOCG Superiore added in 2011), after over 30 years of being a DOC. It was a recognition for the quality of wine that can be made exclusively with Dolcetto, and it was a long time coming. The region has been famous for its wines since medieval times. Documents dating back to1593 in the archives of Dogliani mention Dolcetto vines, along with an ordinance issued by the Municipality of Dogliani regulating the grape harvest to keep the fruit from being picked too early. It was, in fact, absolutely prohibited to pick berries that were not fully ripe; at risk was the severe penalty of having the entire harvest confiscated. In other words, they did not f$%# around!

Dolcetto is a tricky grape to work with. It has notoriously difficult tannins to deal with (especially in the seeds) and is very sensitive to sudden temperature changes, which is a very frequent occurrence in the hills of Dogliani. It prefers limestone-rich soils found in vineyards that are between 300-600 meters, and especially when they are exposed to the south / southeast. While it has sweet fruit before fermentation (hence the name), it can get very bitter and rustic when over extracted. The acidity can be piercing if yields are too high, so proper vineyard work ensures that balance is achieved between these three components. Historically, Dolcetto in Dogliani has been raised in large casks, but more and more people use stainless steel and cement vats. Experiments with barriques have shown that this grape gets pissed off quite easily, and screams obnoxiously as opposed to being politely assertive.

Dogliani is a small appellation, just under 900 hectares divided into 21 communes with 79 crus, where about 3 million bottles were produced in 2017. It is a region where almost all the wineries are family-run affairs (around 70 wineries) that oversee EVERY aspect of production. We proudly represent three wineries. Allow me, kind reader, to present them.

Chionetti : The Traditional Estate

Established in 1912, this beautiful family-run estate has been making Dolcetto in Dogliani wines with TLC for over six generations in the Briccolero, San Luigi and La Costa crus. The present winemaker, Nicola, oversaw the transformation to organic agriculture. Perfectly ripe grapes are vinified with wild yeasts, and raised in a combination of stainless steel, cement vats, and botte. The wines all share beautiful, pure notes of cherry and earth, with the Briccolero cuvée possessing a tremendous aging potential. At a tasting a few years ago, Nicola had brought a Briccolero 1998, which was still youthful and vibrant. Wow!

A few bottles are still available at the SAQ.

Chionetti's estate

San Fereolo : The Natural Vibe

Nicoletta Bocca left her native Milan and her fashion photography business to establish a life in the countryside of Dogliani in 1992. She knew the area well, having vacationed there over the years with her father who was a bon vivant and loved the area for its food, wine and history. Nicoletta bought 12 hectares of vineyard scattered around the area, converted the parcels to biodynamic culture, and makes a few cuvees of Dolcetto, along with a bit of Barbera, Nebbiolo, and an orange wine with Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Her Valdibà cuvée (named after a cru) is the PERFECT example of what Dolcetto SHOULD be : notes of crunchy red fruit, spice, almond and bracing acidity with a noble structure. Her San Fereolo cuvée shows what Dolcetto CAN be when aged for a lengthy time in bottle. The current vintage we have on the market is a 2011, and it still has plenty of primary fruit and impeccable structure, and is starting to show a truffled edge to the fruit, as well as forest floor and leathery notes. Simply gorgeous!

Her Dogliani 2011 is currently available threw private import at 51,25$ per bottle, case of 6 (contact us at info@oenopole.ca).

Nicoletta Bocca from San Fereolo's winery, in her vignes

Nicholas Altare : The New Guy on the Block

More like the Young Maverick on the Block, but you get my drift. After working for many years with Ferdinando Principiano at his winery in Serralunga (Barolo), Ferdinando convinced Nicholas to make his own wine from a parcel of old vine organically cultivated Dolcetto his dad owns in San Luigi. So in 2015, Nicholas took the plunge and made his first vintage with some help from Ferdinando. The result: a delicious Dolcetto that is infinitely drinkable! Low yields are fermented with their wild yeasts, short and gentle extractions ensue, and then the wine is raised in stainless steel tanks. The wine has a very mineral expression with loads of fruit and a vein of acidity that courses through the palate. We JUST got our first allocation of the 2016 vintage. I see the future of Dolcetto, and it is BOOM!

His Dogliani 2016 is currently available threw private import at 34,50$ a bottle, cases of 6 (contact us at info@oenopole.ca).

Vines of Nicholas Altare

Fun Fact: Dogliani is also known as the birthplace of Luigi Einaudi who was the first elected president of the Italian Republic, and the great entrepreneur Michele Ferrero known all over the world for Nutella. Santé !