TN: 2016 Dolcettos and a couple ringers. Yum, yum!

With spring coming on (at long last), and a string of excellent vintages for the “secondary” grapes of Piedmont (2013, 2015 and 2016), we tasted dolcettos this week, with a barbera and freisa ringer. To add a second dimension to the tasting, the barbera, freisa and as well as one dolcetto came from Burlotto, one of my favorite producers.

As usual, these were decanted into serving bottles, about 45 minutes ahead in this case. I retasted them last night and a couple improved, gaining flesh/fruit. I only noted my day-2 impressions where I thought it significant.

Some surprises:

• The three Dolcetto d’Albas came in at the bottom in the group’s rankings.
• The top two wines were Dolcetto di Doglianis.
• The Burlotto freisa and barbera showed surprisingly well, though they were more tannic and acidic.
• For once, there was a good spread of scores, with some consensus at the top and bottom. I.e., not the normal statistical mush we get in this group’s rankings.
• The wines came across as having good acidity, contrary to some of my contentions in another recent thread.
• Assembling the wines, I was surprised at how hard it was to locate the ones I wanted. Most stores have more barberas then dolcettos. As a dolcetto fan, I was surprised, particularly since I’d think the acidity of barbera would make it a harder sell.

Not a surprise:

These wines aren’t super complex, and aren’t strong on aromatics, but they are outstanding values. I confess I was amazed to find in that other recent thread on dolcetto how many people don’t like the grape. And one member of our group says he hates the grape. (He was stuck at the office, so was spared the torture.) Of the seven people present, everyone but one was very enthusiastic about these wines.


Pecchenino – Dolcetto di Dogliani - San Luigi $17
Group 1st /my 4th @ 87+ points

Anna-Maria Abbona – Dolcetto di Dogliani – Sorí dij But $19
Group 2nd/my 7th on first pass @ 86- points; 88 points later.

Burlotto – Barbera d’Alba $18
Group 3rd/my 2nd @ 88 points

Burlotto – Langhe Freisa $22
Group 4th/my 1st @ 89 points

San Fereolo – – Dolcetto di Dogliani - Vigne Dolci $26
Group 5th/my 3rd @ 88+ points

Cavallotto –Dolcetto d’Alba - Vigna Scot $17
Group 6th/my 6th @ 87 points

Vajra – Dolcetto d’Alba $16
Group 7th/my 8th @ 84 points on day 1; 86+ on day 2.

Burlotto – Dolcetto d’Alba $18
Group 8th/my 5th @ 87 points

Background and tasting notes:


Cavallotto – Vigna Scot $17
This was a staple in my house for years, but then it became harder to find. Sour cherries are what I think of with this wine. I had both the ’15 and ’16 recently, before the tasting, and liked them.
Grown at the crest of the hill in Castiglione, between Cavallotto’s Bricco Boschi Barolo vineyard and the famous Monprivato. Short 3-4-day maceration; aged in large oak tanks and cement.
Tasting notes: Slightly lighter in hue than most, with red cherry scents. In the mouth, lighter, redder fruit profile (sweet red cherries. Day 2: Tarter than the others, with more red fruit, but very nice in that style. The short maceration may explain the redder, lighter profile.
Group 6th/my 6th @ 87 points

Vajra $16
Relatively high vineyards, at 350-400 meters. 6-10 day maceration; aged in stainless steel.
Tasting notes: Love most of their wines. Not this one, at least not on day 1. Not much on the nose, and quite tough tannins – so tannic that I guessed it was the freisa, which can strip you gums away with its tannin. Less fruity than others.
Day 2: Fleshed out some. Lots of acid and tannin, but more balanced with nice but indistinct fruit.
Group 7th/my 8th @ 84 points on day 1; 86+ on day 2.

Burlotto $18
Fabio Alessandria, the winemaker, told me in 2016 that he hadn’t been a fan of dolcetto, but thought it had potential and worked to make one that he liked. Over time he has increased the percentage of whole clusters/stems to 60%, unusual for dolcetto.
Tasting notes: Slightly lighter in color, this was an outlier in fruit profile. It had an earthiness not found in the others, which I liked. Somewhat less concentrated (some found it “watery”), but thought it was simply a lighter style. When it was unveiled, I realized that the stems really show here.
Group 8th/my 5th @ 87 points


Anna-Maria Abbona – Sorí dij But $19
Abbona’s wines were a revelation for me when Oliver McCrum, who imports them on the West Coast, served a bunch at a dinner at his home a dozen years ago. Her vineyards are some of the highest in the appellation, at 600 meters, and some date back to the 1930s. This is one of two single-vineyard bottlings. Fermented and aged in stainless steel.
Tasting notes: Fairly tannic, and a bit less fruit at first, but still really good. By the end of the tasting, this had fleshed out and scored it higher. My original score put it too low in my rankings. I guessed Dogliani before this was unveiled.
Group 2nd/my 7th on first pass @ 86- points; 88 points later

Pecchenino – San Luigi $17
Vineyards at 450 meters elevation, on calcarous soils. This is the basic bottling. 8 days of maceration; aged in stainless steel.
Tasting notes: Ripe black cherry on the nose. More black cherry on the palate, with a bit of heat showing. (I refrigerated the serving bottles, and put the wines in the fridge for 30 minutes before the tasting, but it was a warm night.) Ripe, satisfying, grapy in a good way. I guessed Alba, though. Not sure why!
Group 1st /my 4th @ 87+ points
San Fereolo – Vigne Dolci Discovery Wines $26
The owner and winemaker, Nicoletta Bocca, is the daughter of a famous leftist political writer. She grows some nebbiolo, but “the anti-elitist political undercurrents of her winemaking philosophy are undeniable,” says her importer Neal Rosenthal. “Whereas she could easily triple her production of Nebbiolo …, she is steadfastly committed to the underdog Dolcetto, and even speaks dismissively and regretfully about Nebbiolo’s aristocratic perfection.”
This is the first vintage from this old-vine site near the village of Ciglie, at the south end of the Dogliani appellation, at 600 meters elevation, where the soils are more sandy and less chalky than in the center of the zone. Biodynamic, aged in stainless steel without temperature control unless the must goes over 33C.
Tasting notes: Nice, bright, more reddish than most. Lots of cherries. Quite deep/concentrated, and fairly tannic. Tannic finish with pleasing sweet dark cherry notes. Day 2: Luscious, grapy, black cherry. I guessed Dogliani before this was unveiled.
Group 5th/my 3rd @ 88+ points


Burlotto – Langhe Freisa $22
Freisa is genetically close to nebbiolo, and they share the same hard tannins, but freisa typically has a less of a bouquet than nebbiolo. Burlotto succeeds in making one that’s usually fairly approachable young – grapy and with softer tannins. Fabio Alessandria told me in 2011 that the trick is to pick fairly late. 10-year-old vines; fermented in wood casks with 7-day maceration (versus 21-30 typical for traditional Barolo). Aged 10 months in large Allier French oak casks.
Tasting notes: “Good grip!” I wrote. Dark, desne, darker fruits. Some heat. Great dark cherry and a hint of celery. Grapy in a good way. The biggest. Someone said “muddy” – a little less precise, which I could understand but I loved this. I guessed the Abbona, based on my memory of the concentration and dark fruit in her wines. Didn’t have the rough edges of so many freisas. Very good on day 2, as well.
Group 4th/my 1st @ 89 points

Burlotto – Barbera d’Alba $23
From vines in Verduno ranging from 5 to 45 years old, grown at a fairly high 350-420 meters. 10-day maceration followed by 8-9 months in large oak casks.
Tasting notes: Very faint candy fruit on the nose, though not enough to put me off (and I hate cough drop candy in wines). Chewy. I guessed barbera because it reminded me of Giacoma Conterno’s barbera, though somewhat less rich. A mélange of red and black cherries, with good acid at the back. The label said 15%, but that didn’t show. A lovely wine, and I’m very pickly about my barberas.
Group 3rd/my 2nd @ 88 points

No surprise that, John. I’ve long thought the best of the Dolcettos come from Dogliani.
They just seem to me to be the best expression of that grape.

Guys, I’ve not had Dolcetto from Dogliani. What are the primary differences from d’Alba?

Normally they use a lot more oak, whereas many Alba Dolcettos tend to see only stainless steel or large, neutral oak casks. But basides that, Doglianis tend to be bigger, sturdier and more impressive, whereas Alba Dolcettos are more about simple everyday pleasure.

John, I really do love that Burlotto Freisa. A tremendously lovely wine. But was also the Barbera more tannic than the Dolcettos as you wrote, or did you mean only the Freisa wine? Tannic Barbera sounds very weird.

John, what vintage was the Freisa? I see 15 and 16 are available in NYC.

Otto - I think that’s just not true. Small and/or new oak is certainly not the norm in Dogliani. I’ve come across references to producers who use barriques, but I’ve never had one of those wines. And it’s sort of common wisdom that dolcetto doesn’t benefit from new oak. The three producers we tasted certainly do not use barriques, nor does Chionetti, who is on most short lists of top dolcetto makers in Dogliani.

Jeff - The biggest difference is that in Dogliani, dolcetto is by far the most significant grape, so it’s grown on the best sites. By contrast, in the Dolcetto d’Alba zone, it’s competing with nebbiolo that can be made into Barolo and Barbaresco, and the best exposures in that area (southwest, south and southeast) are reserved for nebbiolo. Dolcetto also has to compete with barbera and, to a lesser degree, other more obscure grapes around Alba (including freisa, pelaverga and grignolino).

As a consequence, they tend to be more concentrated and more dark-fruited. I always associate the Doglianis with black cherries.

As my notes above point out, some of the vineyards in Dogliani are also quite high – 500-600 meters. By contrast, there are few vineyards in Barolo or Barbaresco over 400 meters.

I recall that Oliver McCrum told me once that Dogliani’s soils tend to be different from the areas around Alba, but I can’t find any discussion of that in the Italian wine books I have.

I was one of the ones on the other thread who confessed to never having liked Dolcetto.

So I took the suggestions in that thread to try the 2016 Burlotto which was available locally for $18. I meant to post my impressions there but (as is usual for my intention to post notes) I didn’t get around to it.

I didn’t love it and thought it was fairly neutral QPR, but it was definitely better than I recall the examples of the varietal which I had before I gave up on it. I think a mid 80s type of score sounds right in the conventional use of points.

Nice red cherry and bitter cherry skin, a bit of herb, good high acid on the finish. It actually held up and even improved a little over several days on the counter.

It was grapey and a little bitter like I remember, but in this example those characteristics were not overwhelming and instead more kind of just old school. I thought overall it was a solid table wine which would go well with a good portion of Italian cuisine. I still don’t get the idea people often advance that non geek types in the US would get excited about these wines if they tried them, but I think this one would perform quite adequately at the dinner table with many foods.

Chris – The Burlotto is quite atypical because of its steminess.

Have you ever tried any from Dogliani? They’re fairly different beasts. I think of them being like cru Beaujolais, with their dark hues and grapiness, but with a bit less acid and a bit more tannin.

If I have, I don’t recall it.

Winex has San Fereolo in stock.

I see they now have Giacosa (from Alba). I wonder if that one is worth a try.

It’s a great situational wine. Had that epiphany some years ago. Works really on a low key Tuesday night with a simple pasta dish at home. Cionetti and Anna Maria Abonna Sdb are favorites.

The Giacosa is going to be worth a try (assuming it is the base bottling, which is the only one I have any real familiarity with), but it is going to be different than a Dogliani.

Einaudi’s base Dogliani is another nice introduction to Dogliani in general, at a nice price. 90% certain it is no-oak, all stainless.

Probably goes without saying, but dolcetto benefits from a good cellar chill.

Very awesome notes, John!!!

I had a glass of the base 2015 B Giacosa dolcetto at a dinner a few weeks ago and it was fresh with pleasing tartness. Perfectly nice and no wood evident. I put this in the same class as his Arneis; well made and a decent value but not something I’d seek out.

Yes, that’s right. Some of Einaudi’s bottlings spend time in unspecified wood, but I believe that’s large casks.

You’re right in that maybe my point was a bit too generalizing. You can more often come across an oaked Dolcetto from Dogliani than from Alba, but that certainly doesn’t mean that all the producers use new oak or small barrels. They’re just more commonplace in Dogliani, whereas it’s at times nigh impossible to find a Dolcetto d’Alba that has seen any new oak or smaller barrels. I’ve had both rather overoaked Doglianis and Doglianis where any oak characteristics are virtually undetectable, so I should know.

Chionetti sounds like a producer I should check out. And your Dogliani parallel to Cru Beaujolais was a nice one. They’re not cut from the same wood, but stylistically they’re definitely really similar.

Chris - Of the winex options, San Fereolo is the one to get. It’s anything but a run-of-the-mill dolcetto and far above what John describes (its a different wine). Im not sure whether it’s cut from a traditional Piemontese mold but It’s a $25 2008 ffs and, as I mentioned in another thread, it ran the table for some good palates at a recent Italian group dinner (though I preferred the 08 Rovellotti Ghemme neb that night). Cheers - Joe

Why am I not surprised that a single Dolcetto gets a 90 “rating”.

Otto, I spend about six weeks a year in the Dogliani appellation immersed in Dolcetto, and I can’t think of any producers of note using barriques now. (Larger barrels are an entirely different matter, and IMO work well with the bigger examples.) Who were you referring to specifically?

I very much agree with this note; most great wines taste best with the right food, for me, but good Dolcetto is particularly this way. I have no interest in drinking it without food, I love it with the right food.