Old-Vine Dolcetto Swan Song in Serralunga
Dolcetto d'Alba is one of Italy's most delicious, fruit-forward reds. Still, the variety that we drink more frequently than any other while in Piemonte seems to have lost its pizzazz. Why? It's not because Dolcetto no longer offers up luscious red-fruit juiciness infused with classic pine needle aromatics. Nor is it because the most talented makers of the variety have lost their touch. The reason is strictly economic.
In 2004, Sergio Germano was catapulted into the top tier of Barolo stardom when both his single-vineyard Barolos, the "Cerretta" and 75-year-old "Lazzarito," garnered a series of rave reviews from The Wine Advocate. As importers from Tokyo to San Francisco jumped on Germano's bandwagon, the Gentle Giant of Serralunga was faced with a decision he'd hoped to never to make.
"I'd been eyeing Lazzarito since I was a boy," Germano told us over dinner at Veglio in La Morra. "By the time I got my hands on the vineyard, the vines were almost 75 years old. Everyone had always spoken of Lazzarito for its Nebbiolo, but I was just as excited about the old-vine Dolcetto."
Our first taste of Germano's Dolcetto "Pradone" -- drawn from the old vines of Lazzarito -- was in 2008. While good Dolcetto always features a brilliant purple hue and lively red fruit aromatics and flavors, almost all are now made for easy drinking. "Pradone" presented a far different story line. Profoundly concentrated, infused with chameleon-like wild berry aromatics, from 2008-2010 Sergio fashioned a few hundred cases of Dolcetto d'Alba Pradone that mesmerized Piemontese collectors. But as the 2011 harvest approached, Sergio had reached the fiscal crossroads. "Pradone" just didn't add up.
Sergio explained. "The best sites for Dolcetto are also the best for Nebbiolo. As much as I loved growing and making "Pradone" Dolcetto, I couldn't sell it for more than $25/bottle. In the meantime, my Barolos fetch $65-$100/bottle and I was selling every bottle on release to importers. I didn't need an accountant to tell me that it was time to replant Pradone."
The 2011 Piedmont harvest is being touted as one of the finest in twenty years, and Sergio Germano's Pradone flourished like never before. The winter of 2010-11 was very wet, saturating the slopes of Serralunga. In what would turn out to be one of the driest growing seasons since 2003, the days were warm, but nights stayed cool. In some places, early-maturing, young-vine Dolcetto suffered from hydric stress, as the root structure wasn't deep enough for the plants to quench their thirst on the winter rain and snow. At "Pradone," the Dolcetto vineyard that Sergio Germano had been eyeballing since he was just a kid, the old vines never missed a beat.
Regretfully, in 2012, Sergio Germano was obliged to rip out his old-vine Dolcetto, replanting with more lucrative Nebbiolo. A few months later, he released the darkest, most concentrated wild-berry Dolcetto of his career. The old vines of Pradone would go out with a bang.
Brilliant opaque purple to the rim, with high-tone aromas of black cherry, kirsch, crushed red fruits and anise, the attack is incredibly plush and juicy, dense and compact. Big, rich, and palate-coating, the core is packed with crushed red fruit liqueur, splashed with dark cherry preserves, velour-like in texture, built for the long haul.
Drink this monumental old-vine Dolcetto now for its youthful hedonism, or still better, do as we're doing. Lay it down for a decade just to see what world-class Dolcetto can be if grown on the most privileged hillsides of Barolo.