Ask a Piemontese winemaker what his or her favorite wine is, and they will you it’s a red burgundy (some will prefer whites, and then a white burgundy or a riesling is the answer). Few vignerons in Burgundy will return the favor, but the fact is that the wine of kings, Barolo, is the closest you get to the pinot noirs from their French neighbors right across the Alps. Often when describing (especially aged) barolos, the wine experts of this world will use much the same descriptions and superlatives used in tasting red burgundies. And for those of us sometimes tasting blind, one can easily place a Musigny in Brunate, and vice versa. Could this also apply to Piemontese wines made from grapes other than nebbiolo? Is there such a thing as a burgundesq dolcetto wine? The “little sweet one”? Known as light and fruity wines, an everyday wine. Could it be that it could even begin to resemble it’s big brother nebbiolo, and the legendary pinot noirs from Cote d’Or? Rumor has it that Robert Parker Jr once mistook an Altare dolcetto for a barolo (but that’s just a rumor…)
Personally, I’ve had that experience twice: with the 06 Dolcetto d’Alba from Elio Altare, and the 01 Dolcetto di Dogliani Il Filari by Einaudi (tasted in 2010). Altare’s 07 and 08 dolcettos have been wonderful, but not much more than the traditional pleasures of upper echelon dolcetto wines. 07 and 08 Einaudi’s Il Filari and Vigna Tecc are all too young to tell yet.
So, yes, I think you can find wines by the dolcetto grape out there with a broad range of aromas (even typical pinot noir farmyard aromas), light to medium body, and developing tertiary aromas during its lifetime (so much for the notion that all dolcettos are to be drunk young, and that they are not meant for the cellar – Altare’s first dolcetto ever made is still fresh as they come – Antonio Galloni of WineAdvocate said when tasting a 1990 Dolcetto d’Alba from Elio Altare in 2006: “Conventional wisdom says a fifteen-year-old Dolcetto should be dead, but this bottle, is instead vibrant and full of life.” Exactly! Elio Altare does not himself now the lifespan and development of his dolcettos – he has not been making them long enough.
Elio Altare and his daughter Silvia produces around 20 000 bottles of their Dolcetto d’Alba, from 20 to 40 old vines in a calcareous and sandy north to north-east facing vineyard in La Morra.
The 09 is violet (and not the dark ruby red you most often get, nor the sometimes almost black Doglianis), and light (almost pinot-like) in the glass. Blueberry and blackberry aromas, licorice (not the salty Swedish kind that Silvia Altare likes) mineral, earth (wet mold), and a hint of bitter dark chocolate. Light to medium bodied, very elegant, refined and delicate tannins. Tad high on the alcohol (non-conclusive). Complex, much more than you would expect from a Dolcetto d’Alba. Medium long. Wonderful stuff.
Harvesting at Azienda agricola Elio Altare (photo courtesy of Altare)
It’s too early to know whether to disagree or not with Antonio Galloni’s verdict “not quite the personality of the finest vintages”. We will revisit in a couple of years to find out (there’s always an occasion for drinking a good wine).
In the meantime, you cannot go much wrong in getting a couple of bottles for yourself, your loved ones, and your friends. And, if you can find any of their 06, get that too!