A New Face of Dolcetto
Dolcetto is regularly treated as a second-class citizen in the high-dollar, high-prestige district of Barolo, with growers relegating it to unfavorably exposed parts of their holdings and producing it in a quick, straightforward fashion. Barolo is Nebbiolo country, plain and simple, and while one can hardly fault its producers for prioritizing a variety capable of producing such profundity, one cannot also help but wonder if its red-headed stepchild Dolcetto is capable of more…
Fortunately, immediately to the south of Barolo proper, Nicoletta Bocca of San Fereolo has made it her life’s work to explore Dolcetto’s potential for yielding deep, soulful, age-worthy wines, with results that have gained her a huge following in the USA and elsewhere. Since the early 1990s, Nicoletta has worked her high-altitude holdings in the Dogliani appellation biodynamically, producing wild-fermented, non-technological wines in the vein of Piedmont’s old masters (with whom she studied—Bartolo Mascarello, for instance). Nicoletta is the daughter of a well-regarded and controversial Italian political writer, and the anti-elitist political undercurrents of her winemaking philosophy are undeniable. Whereas she could easily triple her production of Nebbiolo and become an overnight sensation (as anyone who has tasted her “Il Provinciale”—a Nebbiolo that bests much Barolo in its elegance and unfettered expression—can attest), she is steadfastly committed to the underdog Dolcetto, and even speaks dismissively and regretfully about Nebbiolo’s aristocratic perfection. Despite her long-aged flagship wine’s immense cost of production and storage (four years in large Slavonian oak), her prices remain defiantly low.
Even if she only produced her old-vines, long-aged flagship for the rest of her life, Nicoletta would be a legend—however, she is tireless in her quest for finding new notes, new timbres, in the range of her beloved Dolcetto. In that spirit, she recently acquired a single hectare of old vines in the district of Rocca Ciglie, about 25 kilometers southeast from her historical holdings in Valdiba, situated at a higher altitude and in a cooler microclimate. In fact, the vineyards of Rocca Ciglie mature a full three weeks after those in Valdiba, and the wines from this zone are a full degree of alcohol lower on average. Nicoletta’s 2016 Dogliani “Vigne Dolci”—the vineyard’s historical name—just arrived in the United States last week, and there are a mere 75 cases imported.
2016 San Fereolo Dogliani “Vigne Dolci”: The vineyard’s high-altitude position (at 600 meters above sea level, it is Nicoletta’s highest) reveals itself in a lifted, invigoratingly pure nose of bright red fruits and sun-kissed stones. Whereas much Dolcetto is merely fruity and floral, an earth-tinged savory streak gives “Vigne Dolci” an extra aromatic dimension, and Nicoletta’s hands-off approach to the fermentation is evident in just the barest hint of volatility (a signature of her style) which lifts rather than dominates. Rocca Ciglie’s soils are lighter and sandier than the chalky clay of Valdiba, and “Vigne Dolci” has an aptly different textural profile: energetic and racy where Valdiba is brooding and intense; fresh where Valdiba is chewy. There are honest and snappy Dolcetto tannins, to be sure, but the overall impression is one of lift and purity. Nicoletta chose to vinify and age “Vigne Dolci” in stainless steel (albeit without temperature stabilization), thereby allowing the site’s exuberant personality to flourish. The 2016 “Vigne Dolci” is a gorgeous first effort very much in keeping with Nicoletta’s deeply personal style but showing a new face of both the variety and the grower, and it should prove fascinating to t: rack this wine’s development over time.