Dolcetto: Piedmont's Other Great Grape

The prosperity visited on the countryside around Alba in the northern Italian region of Piedmont by the continued rise in popularity, not to mention price, of its wines over the past few decades is nothing short of remarkable. Mercedes-Benzes now abound on the country roads where even 30 years ago it was not uncommon to get stuck behind a horsedrawn cart.

The primary driver of this change of fortune has been the region's two great wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape. Somewhat lost in all the hoopla has been, at least until very recently, Dolcetto, the name of both the second grape of the region, and the wine made from it.

Fruitier, softer, and more accessible when young than its famous sibling, Dolcetto is the perfect light red for a hot summer evening. Especially when drunk slightly chilled on a hot summer evening.

Hints of Oriental Spices Most versions will never rise to the magnificence of Barbaresco or Barolo, but just what a delectable wine it can be was bought home to me over dinner at the Ristorante Duomo in Alba with Roberta Ceretto. Her family not only owns the restaurant but also four wine estates in the surrounding country.

Ceretto brought along a selection of wines, including the Ceretto Dolcetto D'Alba Rossana 2007 ($25), which we drank with a shoulder of rabbit with a hazelnut sauce. It was perfection. It was light and lively with bright cherry flavors and hints of almonds, which perhaps explains why it complemented the hazelnut sauce so well.

Back in New York I tried the same wine again, and on this occasion left half the bottle until the next day, by which time it had evolved remarkably. It now reminded me of a great Burgundy with its beguiling combination of power and finesse, along with hints of oriental spices and, somewhat surprisingly, raspberries.

Defying Conventional Wisdom This all leads me to suspect that while Dolcetto can provide tremendous pleasure when young, it also has the potential, at least when it comes from a top vineyard like Rossana, to age splendidly.

This defies the conventional wisdom but then so does the practice of drinking your red wine chilled.

Editor's note: This is the second of two columns on the delights and general correctness of drinking lighter red wines slightly chilled during the steamy season. You can read the first one here.

To find this wine near you try

When to Drink: Now, and for the next few years.Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour breathing, in the fridge.Food Pairing: Steaks, grilled meat and chicken, Mediterranean food.Grapes: 100% DolcettoAppellation: Dolcetto d'AlbaRegion: PiedmontCountry: ItalyPrice: $25Availability: ModerateWeb Site:

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