Sunday, December 6, 2009

Non-Traditional Wines: Dolcetto

"Dolsetto...Dolketto...Dolciano..."was the din in the room as I introduced the most recent tasting flight for The Oregon Wine Blog's non-traditional wine series to our illustrious tasting panel a few weeks ago.  Clearly I'm using the word illustrious fast and loose as most of our panel had never heard of Dolcetto, let alone knew how to pronounce it.   Staff Writer Micheal was hosting a wine and cheese party in Salem for a group of friends and colleagues, and I found it to be an opportune time to get the perspective of both well-refined palates and those of the regular idiot savant alike.  Behold, your review of Dolcetto.

About Dolcetto

If you've been following the blog at all over the past few months, you'd know that without our crutch - Wikipedia - we wouldn't know anything about wine. There we turn again to explore the wonder of Dolcetto.

A black wine grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, Dolcetto is a dry wine that is typically tannic and fruit driven with moderate acidity. Ironically, the name means "little sweet one." Known as Douce Noire in Savoue and Charono in California, the oldest known plantings of the fruit is in Australia - dating back to the 1860's.

Known for black cherry and licorice flavors, a bitter finish leaves the drinker pining for almonds. Typically an easy-drinking wine, Dolcetto pairs well with pasta and pizza dishes.

The Wine

Three wineries provided samples of Dolcetto for our review:

  • Erath 2006 Dolcetto (Willamette Valley)
  • Ponzi Vineyards 2006 Estate Dolcetto (Willamette Valley)
  • Woodward Canyon 2008 Estate Dolcetto (Walla Walla Valley)

We received at least four perspectives on each of the three wines, and unequivocally I can say that there was absolutely no consensus on a "best" of the three.   Ultimately, all three were considered best by some, and it really just comes down to the taste of the drinker as all three are technically sound wines and are delicious in their own way.  And no, I'm not just saying that!  Here we go...

Erath:  The first of the three that I tasted, I immediately noticed a light mouthfeel and flavor.  Fruity notes of red plum, cassis, and vanilla were present, and other reviews also made note of the smoothness of the wine.  One reviewer noted that, "This is my favorite full bodied red."  This was the first Dolcetto I had ever tried (although a different vintage) about 4 years ago and it left me curious for more.  Certainly Erath didn't disappoint with this one and keep your eyes out for this one at a price point of $22.00.

Ponzi:  After the pour I directly noticed tobacco on the nose, with a mellow and earthy taste.  The wine finished a bit sharper.  Guests observed smooth, slightly peppery characteristics and one made a point of writing, "Helps with the sober."  You're guess is as good as mine as to what that means.  This is the second varietal in Ponzi's Italian series and is sure to please.  With strong fruity notices and broad tannins, grab a bottle at $25 before the 580 cases are gone.  

Woodward Canyon:  The third of my tasting flight, this wine presented a bigger, bolder flavor - perhaps a result of the high heat of the Walla Walla Valley appellation.  Guests noticed a fruity profile with a nose of raspberries, blackberries, and a bit of spice.  With a long, generous finish, I found this to be a well-balanced wine (as the tasting notes indicate as well) and very much enjoyed it.  In fact, while I enjoyed all three, the Woodward Canyon was my favorite Dolcetto and I found myself wanting another bottle.  At $21.00 per bottle, I'll probably be picking one up to go on the rack.

Perhaps the most interesting phenomena of this tasting was the unanticipated comparison of region in the tasting.  Universally the two wines from the Willamette Valley were found to be a bit more subtle and smooth, characteristic of the wetter cooler climate of which the fruit was born.  The Walla Walla Valley wine was bigger and bolder, reminiscent of the high-heat climate.  From there, you could draw a direct correlation as to who would enjoy which wine based on preference for bigger, bolder reds or lighter varietals.  Perhaps that is why we saw such mixed ratings between the three...but it's neat to observe such a prominent dichotomy between appellations.  

Well, I'd better sign off for now and get some rest before another week of work, wine, and fun.  Does anybody have exciting wine plans for the upcoming week?  Cheers.


  1. Good to see you're breaking out of the Pinot Noir mold. Yes, Oregon, there are other varietals out there.
    I guess not enough Italians migrated here to establish many of the famous grapes of Italy. Other grapes from Italy are Barbera and Nebbiolo, two other Piedmont grapes; and of course the famous Sangiovese of Chianti fame; and most people have had Pinot Grigio, or as we call it here, Pinot Gris.

    Chances are that the wines reviewed here had the grapes sourced outside the Willamette, maybe even from down here in the Umpqua Valley. We make some very delightful Dolcetto here.

    Still Italian varietals are not has popular in Oregon then in, say, Mendocino County, CA. They are hard to grow and are naturally market driven. Moral: Drink more Italian varietals from Oregon!

  2. I love Dolcetto and I am glad your tasting panel did too! Dolcetto is the go-to table wine for Italians and is perfect with their cuisine. Though Dolcetto means "little sweet one," that is a term for endearment rather than sweetness. My favorite Dolcetto is actually grown in the Willamette Valley and is the Piluso 2007 Dolcetto. The Piluso Vineyard is located in the east Willamette Valley just east of Salem. It is a very small boutique winery that also makes a fabulous 2007 Tempranillo- who would have guessed?

  3. Great review and good job bringing to light the fact that Oregon is making many brilliant wines beyond the gorgeous Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris we are known for. Ponzi's Dolcetto is good. But IMHO, the best Oregon Dolcetto comes from Marchesi Vineyards in Hood River… looking forward to trying the Pilus though!

  4. Nice blog with a wonderful review. I like Ponzi as it is tasty. enjoyed your blog very much.

  5. Thanks for the comments! We have a soft spot in our hearts for the bigger reds, so breaking out of the pinot mold is fun. Christine, Piluso is definitely on our list.