I've had  a love/hate relationship with Dolcetto for years now. People tend to be surprised when I tell them that I don't really like Dolcetto, and don't really buy much. What I really should have been saying for the past decade or so was that I didn't like the direction Dolcetto had taken, and as so often happens with these things the pendulum has begun to swing in the direction I prefer!

In all honesty this really started happening about 2009 or so, but these last few, very cool vintages in Piedmont have helped accelerate that shift. Many of the wines I tasted on my recent visit to the region were absolutely gorgeous, which for me means that they were light bodied, relatively low alcohol examples of Dolcetto that celebrated the racy purity and soft forest floor complexity that the best examples offer. To be sure there are super fresh examples as well as more powerfully built wines that are essentially made in this style, but across the board the wines I've tasted recently just show more Dolcetto character, and less overt winemaking that had been the case just five short years ago.These are remarkably friendly wines today, just the way they should be. Easy to drink and enjoy and wonderfully friendly at the table. They combine a gentle brush of tannin in the mouth with fresh and sprightly acidity. Neither as tannic as Freisa for example, nor as acidic as Barbera, today's Dolcetto fits its role as the everyman's, and every meal's wine.

For the most part these wines work best with savory foods that are neither too fatty nor too acidic. Salumi are a classic partner, as well as simple risotto and pasta dishes though I find Dolcetto really excels with medium intense meat dishes which can range from grilled chicken to simple hamburgers and my favorite: seared pork chops marinated in garlic, herbs and wine.

One of the historic problems of Dolcetto is that it is a wine very prone to reduction, which produces a bit of a stinky nose. With today's understanding and technology there is no excuse for reduced wines, all one needs to do is to introduce oxygen into the aging wine to prevent this from occurring. Of course one has to remain vigilant while performing pump-overs to avoid reduction because if one is a bit too enthusiastic you could end up with an wine that lacks freshness and brightness due to oxidation. Many producers will tell you that Dolcetto is the most challenging wine to produce in Piedmont. I'm glad so many producers have undertaken the challenge, returning Dolcetto to its roots, and in small part to my table.

What follows is a list of the wines I tasted on my recent visits. As usual the wine reviews have a point score attached to them. While this is an important part of communicating about wine it is all too often given some supra-natural significance and people miss out on fantastic wines, and fantastic wine experiences because they are all caught up in the score alone. Case in point, I love the simple purity of the 88 point Elio Grasso and Elvio Cogno wines. Are they the "best" examples of Dolcetto I tried? No they are not, the lack the power and complexity of the best, but they are freaking delicious and perfect examples of what Dolcetto should be.

A few producers can make excellent Dolcetto in a more complex or more powerful style. This of course is due to the fact that some winemakers are more skilled and some sites provide better raw materials. Everyone else should aspire to the heights the simple yet beautiful Dolcetto of Grasso and Cogno reach. These are just such beautiful wines, nothing is forced and everything is in balance, which of course makes them easy to drink, which, along with being delicious, is the first obligation of any wine. I hope, and do believe that we are moving past the more is better era of winemaking, and even though this simple, racy style of Dolcetto can reveal any flaws in winemaking my hope is that winemakers no longer rely on crutches like extraction and oak, but rather work to refine their wines to the point where they can stand on their own.

There are wines for most palates here, so take a look at the list that follows and see if you can find a Dolcetto thats right for yours. And if you, like me, didn't find much to like in Dolcetto-land over the past decade or so; do yourself a favor and give Dolcetto another chance. I have a feeling you'll be glad that you did!

2011 Cascina delle Rose Dolcetto d’Alba Elizabeth

Assertively earthy, spicy, and violet driven on the nose this also shows  a little tobacco smoke top note over aromas of freshly crushed berry and plum fruit.  Elegant in the mouth and with great transparency, this strikes just the perfect weight and balance, with gorgeous purity of fruit, almost sweet with ripeness, and layered with plum, mulberry and spiced cherry flavors. This is about as good as Dolcetto gets. 92pts

2011 Barale Dolcetto d’Alba Bussia

an old sub variety with red jacks that is very virus resistance with a very savory flavor. Aged for eight or nine months in ten Hl oak barrels

Blue violets appear immediately on the nose followed by sour plum and wild cherry fruit that shows great freshness topped by aromatic eucalyptus like notes with hint of brick and green peppercorn.With  bright acidity, fine firm tannins supporting deep fruit in the mouth, this is very aromatic, layered and rich without being heavy. In fact this is a bit of a powerhouse graced with a long precise mineral laden fresh wild plum finish that shows a hint of balsam on the finale. Heck of a wine. 91pts

2011 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba Santo Stefano

Freshly opened

Salami, wild herbs, and wild berry fruit come together on a spicy nose that does show a light  lactic top note.  Bright, a touch chewy in the mouth, this nonetheless delivers superb precise wild berry/boysenberry fruit supported by acids that are almost salty. This offers great purity of fruit with a hint of supple power and  great acid cut on the back end, and through the long slightly smoky finish which shows a hint of grapefruit pith.  Zesty and delicious. 91pts

2011 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba Bricco

Darker, more muscular on the nose than the Santo Stefano with dark fruit a bit of tar, some dried strawberry, strawberry seeds and mineral notes with a touch of dried herb. In the mouth this is  juicy and moderately full bodied though remaining elegant with dark berry fruit framed by nice forest floor balsamic notes. There’s a bit of Barolo character here, with super fine tannins lending a mineral edge on the  elegant long if simple finish that is driven by some fine acidity. 91pts

2011 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati

Coste de Vergne higher elevation vineyards 440 meters

Special clones where the stems turned red, Aldo Vajra cloned the red stemmed vines which in his opinion produce a more complex and fruitier style of wine.

Dark and muscular on the nose with dried herb notes, dark brambly fruit, just a hint of mint, and some some black cherry aromas. On entry this is supple and rich, a bit dark with somewhat powerful dark cherry and salted plum fruit, turning broad on the palate with more power than the regular bottling, though still rather well balanced and light. This artfully blends the classic size of Dolcetto with intensity of an icon wine. 90pts

2011 Cantina Del Pino Dolcetto d’Alba

Ferments for five to six days, all SS

Tight, musky and a bit reduced on the nose. With air this reveals earthy aromas with some geranium notes and a little smokiness. In the mouth this is very open, very juicy, and in a rather fruity style with good acidity but not a bright cutting acid. Fresh in the mouth, this is quite complex and while the fruit has a candied edge to it, theres a lot of savory sweet spice, earthy, slightly woodland toned nuance adding complexity here. This is pretty natural feeling, neither lean and aggressive nor big and plush it falls right in the middle of the style spectrum with  lots of depth to the fresh cherry and dark raspberry fruit, finishing with a nice blend of acidity, fruit tannin and a little chewy fat and aromatic violet and sand inner mouth perfumes. 90pts

2012 Cascina delle Rose Dolcetto d’Alba Elizabeth

All SS, barrel sample

High toned and focused on the nose with floral aromas that show excellent freshness. The palate delivers ripe fruit with hints of fresh leather, woodland spice, and  forest floor, showing an excellent, lively quality the defines the pure and fresh potential of Dolcetto. This is young and still fairly grapy with beautiful lacy tannins and zesty acids for support. 90pts

2012 Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba

From vineyards in Monforte

Cut plum and melon greets the nose along with a bit of wild berry, some blue earth and herb stem note. This is bright, juicy, pure, and lively on the palate in a lovely fruity, medium bodied style.  Simply the classic medium light sized dolcetto with great acids that delivers simple pure and fresh fruit with a hint of extraction at times but this is absolutely delicious. 89pts

2011 Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Langhe Visadi

Density of color here is impressive. This has a fruity, wild berry nose, bright and fresh with light mineral and black cherry skin aromas. On entry this is a little pasty on the palate, somewhat extracted but very fresh, and that theme continues on the mid-palate which is a little thick if very fresh, with lots of dark berry fruit supported by a nice edge of tannins, and good acid. There’s lots of blackberry fruit with a blood orange note on the moderately long finish. Certainly well made and impressive, this is a bit heavy and intense for me. 89pts

2011 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba

From Rue e Monrobiolo vineyards, fermented in concrete, then 9 months in botte

Very pretty floral violet tinged nose that picks up subtle  soil, dark fruit, and quite spicy aromas. This is  soft, rich and easy in the mouth with plenty of mulberry boysenberry fruit that shows great freshness in the mouth.  There are very present yet soft tannins here along with gentle acid support making this easy to drink with  just a touch of richness here. The finish is very fruity, in fact remarkably fruity and this is predictably quite lovely. 89pts

Elio Grasso

2012 Elio Grasso Dolcetto  d'Alba dei Grassi

According to Gianluca Grasso “Lighter styled because of the cooler vintage but it's just the way I like it”.

Fresh and tart on the nose with a little earthy and floral spice, and nice green peppercorn note. Decidedly medium light bodied in the mouth, fresh and immediately delicious, this is lovely with  lightly earthy red fruit, soft tannins, fine cleansing acidity. Uncomplicated yet gulpable and absolutely full of lightly plummy and red cherry fruits and a soft green herbal edge, this is irresistible. 88pts

2012 Elvio Cogno Dolcetto d'Alba Mandorlo

Very pretty nose is a little inky, but packed with flowers, and spicy earthy and mineral aromas.This has a nice lighter bodied feel but with a touch of body and a nice soft tannin structure lending it just a bit of power in a fresh style. The super clean finish shows aromas of violets and has a certain delicacy to it. This really has pretty inner mouth perfumes and juicy little skin tannins driving the palate. Prototypical modern style quality Dolcetto. 88pts

2011 Guido Porro Dolcetto d’Alba I Pari

5000 bottles, produced

Fermented in cement with natural yeast, then aged in stainless steel and cement.

Deeply aromatic with early violet notes joined by aromas of spicy, aging pork sausages, a little smoke and small red fruits. Perhaps  a touch sweet on entry, this turns round and juicy on the palate with significant tannins for Dolcetto. Delivering a little black berry fruit and sour cherries on the palate along, a little clay earth this ends with a long, sapid and mineral driven finish. A wine that is bracing, fruity and fairly serious. 88pts

2011 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba

All SS, different vineyards from Novello, Sinio, Barolo, Vergne,  Serralunga

Very pretty on the nose  complex, gently fruit and wide open with a blend of cherry, a hint of blueberry, woodsy spice and herb fruit. On entry this is bright, fresh and vivid in the mouth with slightly edgy, very pure floral, wild sage and juniper accented red berry fruit. Some mild tannins offer a bit of support but don’t get in the way of enjoying this flora,l fresh and fruity Dolcetto. 88pts

2012 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba

Tank sample of final blend

A little redux, cleans up with some air showing  nice bitter cherry and herb fruit. A bit spicy in the mouth this seems a bit brighter and leaner than the 2011 with nice cherry skin fruit. Ultimately it should turn out to be a bit simpler but with softer tannins and the similar lowish acid, but in a fresher, more precise and fruit driven style.  I prefer this to the eleven. 88pts

2011 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba

A blend of ten vineyards from Monforte, Novello, Barolo aged in SS

Vintage quite challenging, suffered quite a lot, in order to preserve the quality of the fruit did an on the vine selection to remove rotten bad grapes from clusters so that they could allow the remaining grapes to ripen an additional week, same for 2012

Quite striking savory, woodsy, spicy aromas that are a little meaty and black fruited with an aroma that recalls cherry cola.  Soft on entry with some early some sticky tannins, this turns broad and black spiced in the mouth with black cherry and black currant fruit on the slightly chewy mid-palate. Rich and quite fruity on the finish, tart flavors here help compensate for the lower acid. This turns  dusty with slightly stalky dry tannins on the moderately long finish. 87pts

2011 Luigi Pira Dolcetto d’Alba

Only in SS

Dark, violets, dark fruit and spicy herbs greet the nose with a  mulberry top notes. In the mouth this is a little chewy,though with  a nice juicy feel. Rich and fresh and very drinkable in a lightly serious kind of way,  this has that dark earthy fruitiness a lot of dolcettos seem to have and is fairly tannic though the tannins pass quickly like jalapeño spice. This  has attractive richness and brightness. 87pts

2012 Scavino Dolcetto d'Alba

From a very old vineyard planted with Nebbiolo in the upper part, dolcetto in the lower part. This undergoes a very short maceration and gentle extraction of four days

Violets and spice and lots of soapy floral and spicy red fruit on the nose with some gentle  Loire cab franc green soil notes. This is  light weight, fresh and crisp in the mouth though is does carry some fleshy weight with it.This is in the fresh pure style that is very attractive for Dolcetto,  modern and a touch fleshy but light and elegant with a fresh finish. 87pts

2011 Marchesi di Gresy  Dolcetto d'Alba Monte Aribaldo

All SS

Treiso vineyard, single vineyard,

Not fermented dry on the skins, bleed off to keep the wines lighter and less tannic,

Young estery nose is earthy and quite black fruited, in a spicy, assertive, astringent way. This has a nice entry, a bit weighty but with rather silky tannins and nice red and black fruit that shows a little spice and earth complexity. This shows nice balance of flavors and complexity in a very slightly chunky style. 87pts

2011 Rivella Serafino Dolcetto d’Alba

Rivella Serafino

After four days pulled off the lees and finishes fermentation clear, all in SS

Quite purple looking. This has a lactic, yogurt nose which blows off a bit revealing the underlying  blueberry and violet aromas. Quite precise in the mouth with high toned and soil driven flavors that are very transparent. This is perhaps a touch soft but shows excellent balance with soft chewy tannins that lead to the fine finish which does also feature a return of the lactic quality but layers woodland spice, slate and clay minerality over it. A very vinous wine. 86pts

2012 Massolino Dolcetto d'Alba

Special SS fermenter is used to remove as many of the seeds as possible during fermentation, would prefer all ferments in cement, shooting for the most freshness and fruitiness as possible

Pretty nose that is full of black cherries, a little smoke, and a hint of talc. While a bit  soft on  entry, this is broad, and very easy in the mouth with grapey fruit and some nice little tannins on the backend. This feels a touch dilute and lightweight with some blue floral notes on the modest finish. 85pts

2011 Oddero Dolcetto d’Alba

Brunella in Castiglione Falletto, old vines of forty to sixty years, sees only SS

Nice clear perfumes of forest floor, pencil  lead, violets, wild black fruits, and a bit of talc greet the nose. This is  a bit soft on the palate, very easy to drink,with  simple berry fruit on the palate supported by some soft tannins. Soft, easy and short. 84pts

2011 Cordero di Montezemolo - Monfalletto Dolcetto d’Alba

100% SS

All the vines look to Verduno east north east, get lots of sun but remains cool, should be a simple wine, should be fresh without too much alcohol, perfect in about three years, but can last and improve for up to nine years but that’s not their intention

Floral with a bit of ash on the nose along with a nice sweetness to the black fruit aromas. This is smooth in the mouth and relatively low acid though without being soft. Delivering nice clear and slightly inky, spiced black fruit on the palate and through the light finish, it is a bit short and simple with a hint of strawberry at its core. 83pts