Dolcetto – Light Red for Texas
Dolcetto is becoming a regular participant in the Texas Wine Industry, featured in red blends, as an easy drinking varietal wine, and as all or part of a rose’ bottling. This grape is widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The name literally translates as “little sweet one,” but that does not mean that the grape reaches high sugar levels at ripeness, or that it is generally used to make sweet wines. Dolcetto is relatively tolerant to drought conditions and produces fruity wines with moderate tannins and acidity. Dolcetto wines are typically meant to be drunk young, especially if made as a varietal or rose’.
In Piedmont, Italy, many producers grow and make Dolcetto as a wine to be taken to market early and consumed soon after release. Most of these producers make wines from bolder varieties like Nebbiolo and Barbera that require more time to reach optimum drinkability. Dolcetto was first brought to the U.S. in California by Italian immigrants who wanted to grow grapes with which they were familiar. Lots of Dolcetto in California has historically been labeled as Savoie or Charbono. DNA Fingerprinting by UC-Davis in the 1980’s showed that these two species are actually different grapes from Dolcetto, but some producers still persist in the traditional labeling practices.
Most Dolcetto is planted in Italy, but there are significant plantings in both California and Australia, home to some of the oldest vines dating back to the 1860’s. A significant rise in Dolcetto acreage is part of the trend to plant warmer weather grapes in Oregon’s warmer Umpqua and Southern Oregon AVA’s. Other plantings are becoming well established in New Mexico (Deming area west of El Paso), Pennsylvania, and now Texas.
Some flavors often found in Dolcetto wines include black cherry, licorice, and stewed fruit – plums, strawberries, blueberries. The wines are typically moderate in both acidity and tannins, although there can be a slight bitterness on the finish. In Italy, Dolcetto skins generate lots of anthocyanins, the compounds that give grapes their dark purple-black color. However, in Texas, Dolcetto tends to generate less anthocyanins and produce wines of lighter color, similar in many ways to Texas-grown Grenache and Cinsault that are widely used for rose’ wines. In general, Dolcetto produces lighter-bodied, easy drinking wines that pair particularly well with grilled fare and red-sauced dishes like pastas, lasagna, and pizza. Dolcetto is Italian, after all.