“When it comes to Dolcetto, you have to be a professional,” says Nicola Chionetti. And he adds that you have to be passionate about this variety. It’s difficult to grow and, he says, it’s “tremendo” to vinify, too.
My first stop on my more in-depth exploration of Dolcetto, is at Chionetti, where they live and breathe Dogliani DOCG. The ancient roots of this area are in the hands of the young Nicola, who talks with passion and wisdom about Dolcetto, the soils of his property, altitude, dolcetto cru, the sands of time and what they have brought to his vines. It’s like listening to the voice of an age-old sage, but sitting opposite is actually a young man, confident in his knowledge and with a vision for the future.
Chionetti is a Langhe winemaker who respects the tradition of dolcetto, creating wines that are a full expression of the terrior of this area and the potential of dolcetto. It’s a process that requires dedication, respect for the past without living in it, and a deft hand in the cellar.
We start with Chionetti’s San Luigi Dolcetto, which is a perfect example of this wine. Aged only in steel, it has beautiful fruity notes, like sticking your nose in a jar of jam, well-balanced, young drinking and just generally pleasant. The famous almond-like aftertaste – that sourness that Dolcetto can sometimes have – is almost imperceptible.
San Luigi is this particular area of the Dogliani DOCG – hills nestled between Monforte d’Alba and Dogliani. Driving through in the car, I pass the old San Luigi chapel and school and I know I’m in one of those once-upon-a-time places where local children from hamlets walked miles to school, and when the snows came, there was just this world and none other.
From the San Luigi Dolcetto, we move on to Chionetti’s Briccolero, the first cru from this San Luigi area and one of Chionett’s organic wines. I love this wine – big, powerful and tannic. My dolcetto exploration has become surprising – I was not expecting this kind of personality from a Dolcetto. It has nothing to a Nebbiolo’s complexities, but Briccolero’s lack of subtlety is what makes it stand out from the Dolcetto crowd. I mentioned in my previous post the unapologetic sass of Dolcetto…. Well Briccolero has that and some.
And then Nicola serves what could be considered his family’s current flagship wine – La Costa, Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG. The La Costa vines take us back in time, planted in 1956 by Nicola’s grandfather on the top of the Briccolero hill. Nicola says they make this wine because they want to show their history and their traditions. They want to show what Dolcetto is capable of. Made only in the best years, it has ageing potential, great structure and body and a slightly more complex nose as it spends some time in big barrels.
While we’re tasting and talking, we conclude with the Chionetti 2015 Barolo – Pianpolvere from the Bussia vineyard. It’s like a golden cleanskin. No label yet, and Chionetti’s first Barolo. This will be a Barolo producer to watch. 2015 was a favourable year for most, but the Chionetti Barolo is a truly beautiful wine – smooth, well-integrated, complex, fruity, easy to drink. It’s a special project for Nicola, who has inherited the dream his father didn’t manage to complete in his lifetime, of producing Barolo from their own parcel of vineyards.
We discuss altitude and acidity, and the problems of marketing Dolcetto. The area dedicated to Dolcetto growing is an ever smaller patch and if we enter the realms of niche product, we could be on the road to invisibility. Nicola says unfortunately the problem with Dolcetto is one of perception. The international market isn’t favourable and Dolcetto is seen as a low-quality product. If one ever needed convincing otherwise though, a visit to Chionetti is all you need to discover that Dolcetto can be a beautiful expression of terroir, a high-quality product from a tradition with its roots steeped in these legendary Langhe hills.