With Barbera, Dolcetto is one of the two "everyday" wines of the Piedmont region in Italy. While the most favorable growing sites here are reserved for Barolo and Barbaresco, winemakers plant Dolcetto widely where the temperamental Nebbiolo grape doesn't thrive. As Dolcetto is not made to age, but rather intended for more immediate consumption, these plantings allow the same winemakers who produce Barolo and Barbaresco to earn immediate revenue while their Nebbiolo wines mature.
Translating into English as "little sweet one", Dolcetto makes brightly colored wines, reddish-purple in hue, with aromas of blackberries and plums. We find these wines to be a great source of immediate gratification. On release, they are generally wonderfully fruity, with soft tannins. Really, there's little reason to hold onto Dolcetto for much longer than a year, after which its youthful fruit character starts to fade.
Dolcetto is especially versatile with food. We find it's a lifesaver in certain restaurant situations when folks are ordering all over the place. There's some acidity, and some tannins, but not too much of either of these qualities to eliminate certain food options. Thus, it won't overwhelm more delicate seafood dishes, but will remain right at home with tomato-based pastas or meat dishes.
The grape is not without challenges in the winery. One downside to Dolcetto is its tendency toward reduction. The more concentrated the Dolcetto, the more oxygen is needed during the vinification. Many top producers in Piedmont are now using micro-oxygenation to guard against reduction.
These top producers can be found both in the Piedmontese towns of Alba and Dogliani. Some, but not all of them are also known for their Barolo and Barbaresco production. Look for wines from Luciano Sandrone, Luigi Einaudi, and Conterno Fantino.