Dolcetto, or 'sweet little one' as it is known in Italian, is an autochthonous grape variety hailing from the sub-alpine region of the Piedmont, in Italy's north-west. It is cultivated virtually exclusively in the provinces of Cuneo and Alessandria, where it manifests itself as the well-known Dolcetto d'Alba, Dolcetto di Dogliani and Dolcetto d'Asti, among the seven regional DOC's carrying its name.
In some ways, Dolcetto lies in the shadow of its more noble Piedmontese brethren, Nebbiolo, the grape variety responsible for the 'king' and 'queen' of wines respectively, Barolo and Barbaresco. However, along with Barbera, the other less reverential dark-skinned variety of the region, Dolcetto serves a righteous purpose in making easy and early-drinking wines, to shine with an array of foods.
An inky purple in hue, Dolcetto is embellished with a generous quantity of anthocyanins, or the pigmentation found in grape skins. Moreover, despite the quaint nickname, Dolcetto is bolstered by high levels of tannin, allowing it to cut through hearty pasta, meat and hard cheeses. In contrast to the high acid Barbera, Dolcetto has but moderate to low acid levels. When its early ripening tendencies are pushed, therefore, whether by the natural proclivities of vintage conditions or the winemaker's hand, Dolcetto can become drying and a caricature of its easy-drinking self. It is also highly reductive. These characteristics often see its structural components softened with short fermentations.
Dolcetto is also prone to fungal diseases and to dropping fruit during the cold mornings of late September. However its precocity means that growers can reap fast returns even on lesser sites, be they high up or on lower, highly fertile terrain. Rarely is Dolcetto planted on the better south-facing slopes, reserved largely for Nebbiolo.
While Dolcetto's irreverent nature would appear well suited to the Australian wine culture, its presence is limited to experimental plantings at this stage.