Serious Grape: Dolcetto Under $20

Editor's Note: Please welcome Sarah Chappell to the Serious Eats team. Sarah is a wine writer and -monger living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and contributes to Palate Press and WineChap.


[Photo: Bonny Doon Vineyard]

The name Dolcetto means "sweet little one" in Italian, but don't let that fool you: wines made from this grape are dry and easy drinking. Mostly cultivated in Piedmont, Italy, Dolcetto wants to be sipped while young and cheerful and full of fresh cherrylike flavor.

These wines have less acidity than most Italian reds, but they're well-structured with a slightly bitter, almost almondy finish. Dolcetto is delicious with cured meats and soft and fresh cheeses that have a touch of tang. Here are a few of the best options we tried under $20.


[Photograph: Sarah Chappell]

Italian Dolcetto

The deep black raspberry hue of the Roagna Dolcetto d'Alba 2009 shows its youth, but this wine is ready to drink as soon as you can pop the cork. It has a delicately feminine and floral nose, but an underbelly of barnyard made this the favorite of the old world winos among our tasting panel. Mouthwatering acidity circles around a sour cherry core while grippy yet pleasant tannins have this wine begging for food. Try a soft goat cheese to bring out the tart fruit. (Around $16, find this wine)

Black cherries and cream jump out of Fontanafredda Dolcetto d'Alba 'Treiso' 2009. Soft plums with hints of marshmallow and fruit sweetness mark this as a more modern rendition of Dolcetto. Though it's not terribly complex, this wine is easy-drinking and perfect for pizza night. (Around $18, find this wine at Eataly New York or visit Fontanafredda for more information)20110127dolcettobottle.jpg

Made from an ancient strain of the Dolcetto grape called 'Nibiô,' the Cascina degli Ulivi Monferrato Dolcetto 'Nibiô' 2005 from the village of Tassarolo showed us that its roots were a bit different than any of the other wines we tried. Dried cherries and raspberries dominated, but there's a rich earthiness on the finish. This wine lacked the freshness of the other Dolcettos we tasted, but can hold its own as a light red option for pairing with steak. (Around $14, find this wine)

Dolcetto, California Style

Several producers in California have adopted Dolcetto, often with great success. At $18, the Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca' Del Solo Dolcetto 2007 from Monterey County is a perfect introduction. The nose is dark brambly fruit leading into the fullest-bodied Dolcetto we tasted. While there is enough acidity to keep the wine fresh, the rich dark fruit is in focus. We were left with the impression of blackberries dipped in sweet and sour sauce—pair this one with pork! (Around $18, find this wine)

Disclosure: All wines were provided as press samples for review.