Anyone who has ever enjoyed a meal in an Italian restaurant (haven’t we all?) will be familiar with the word ‘dolce’ – the dessert or pudding course. But you might also find a ‘dolce’ on the cheese board: dolcelatte (“sweet milk”). And who of a certain age could ever forget Fellini’s famous film, ‘La Dolce Vita’ (The Sweet Life)? There’s that word again. But there’s a ‘dolce’ for wine lovers to look out for, too: dolcetto – a delicious and under-rated red grape variety native to the Piedmont region in Italy’s north-west.
Mention Piedmont and red wine and most will immediately think of Barolo or Barbaresco and there’s little doubt that the Nebbiolo grape that goes to make these wonderful, powerful, age-worthy wines is Piedmont’s most respected variety. But 2 other high quality red grapes are also widely grown in the region: Barbera, that I blogged about some months ago, and Dolcetto.
Dolcetto – the ‘little sweet one’ takes its name from the small size of its grapes and their lovely flavour, yet, despite the ‘dolce’, the wines made from it are almost invariably dry. And, happily for those who find Italian wine complicated, you’ll usually see the grape name on the label as Dolcetto d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Asti (Alba and Asti being the areas from which the wines come).
Long established producer Ascheri makes 2 Dolcettos from different vineyards (as well as a selection of Barolos, Barberas and other interesting bottles). I opened an example from the Nirane vineyard in Alba recently (Great Western Wine, £13.95): a lovely summer wine; not too heavy – you could even lightly chill it if you wanted and the fresh, clean fruit of this unoaked red shines through – delightful bitter cherries to perfectly cut through rich food. We enjoyed it with a spicy chicken dish but duck or, as the label suggests, fresh water fish would be other good matches.
And, of course, ideal to share with your own ‘sweet one’!
Saint-Péray may not be one of the more familiar Appellations of France but, as regular Bristol Wine Blog readers will know, I’m always keen to seek out wines from these less well-known areas. Sometimes, they are better value than their more fashionable neighbours; at other times they just make good and interesting drinking, perhaps with some unusual and different flavours. The Saint-Péray we enjoyed recently (£14.99 from Waitrose) probably fits more into the second category, although, for the quality, it is by no means expensive.
Saint-Péray is on the west bank of the River Rhône, near the town of Valence and used to produce mainly sparkling wines described by Tom Stevenson (in a 20 year old Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that I’ve kept for no logical reason) as ‘overrated, having a coarse mousse and made from the wrong grapes grown on the wrong soil’! Well, the same grapes, Marsanne and Roussane, are still being grown in the same soil; the key things that have changed are that, today, more of the wines are made still rather than sparkling and a number of top producers have moved in and transformed the quality of the grapes in the vineyard and the standards of winemaking.
And it was the name of three of these producers, working together, on the label that attracted me to this wine: Pierre Gaillard, Yves Cuilleron and François Villard all make their own wines (Cuilleron’s Condrieu is stunningly good) but also collaborate under the banner ‘Les Vins de Vienne’. I wasn’t disappointed; this is a full bodied, flavoursome, dry, rich white that has spent 9 months ageing, partly in barrel. The oak is quite noticeable, as is the alcohol (13.5%) but neither dominates the spicy palate (cinnamon and ginger came to mind) with its attractive sourness – the kind you get from baked apples. And it might be even better after a couple more years in bottle or, if you can’t wait, decanting.
If this is the wrong grape in the wrong soil, then give me more!
A couple of days ago, the latest edition of ‘Decanter’ dropped onto my door mat. Only this time, the ‘thud’ was rather louder than usual as the magazine was accompanied by a bulky supplement announcing the results of the annual Decanter World Wine Awards. Although I had plenty of other things to do, I couldn’t resist a quick flick through the list of the top prizes – the wines that had won Platinum Medals (the new combined name for the old Regional and International Trophies).
One entry caught my eye: the winner of the ‘Best Pinot Noir in Chile’ category – Cono Sur’s ‘20 Barrels’. By chance, we’d got a bottle sitting on our wine rack, bought a few weeks previously in a Waitrose special offer – £14.99 instead of £19.99. We were going to be eating some pan-fried duck breast with a spiced raspberry sauce that evening, so it was a great chance to open it and put it to the test.
I can see why it won; it really is a delicious wine – lots of red and black fruit flavours, plenty of Pinot character, well-balanced and with a good, long finish.
But how does it compare with other Pinots? Decanter have their view, but just a day earlier, I’d included some bottles from New Zealand in a tasting I was running for a local group. If the 20 Barrels was worthy of Platinum in its category, then so, surely, was Martinborough Vineyards’ Te Tera (Majestic, £16.99). Yet, on checking the New Zealand results, that wine was down among the Silver Medalists in its group – not even Gold! Still a creditable result, but a long way short of Platinum. So, why the difference?
Different judges, judging by different standards, perhaps? Or is it that the New Zealand Pinot category as a whole is stronger than Chile and therefore harder to win? It’s difficult to say, but the lesson is clear: awards or points awarded by judges, even professionals, should only ever be used as a guide. In the end, just trust your own taste buds.