Domenico Winery + Osteria

Fresh grape bunch in Piedmont, Italy

Famous Italian Wine Grapes 101: Dolcetto

Piedmont may be mostly known for Nebbiolo, the noble grape behind the world-famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. But, this beloved wine-producing region is also home to other fabulous grapes. And, one you should know is Dolcetto.

Meaning “little sweet one” in Italian, Dolcetto’s name often misleads many to think it’s a sweet wine. It’s not at all. Dolcetto is a dry red wine with major personality and, when made with care, can be a dazzling wine.

Let’s learn all the fascinating facts about this native Piemontese wine grape and why you should drink it!

Beautiful vineyards in Piedmont

There’s a little disagreement over where this grape comes from

Yes, Dolcetto is a grape from Piedmont, an Italian region in Northwestern Italy bordering France. But, Dolcetto’s precise origins have yet to be set in stone. The consensus seems to agree that Dolcetto came from Monferrato, an area in Piedmont known for its idyllic rolling hills, truffles, and – of course – wine.

Here’s the thing – Piedmont isn’t the only place in Italy that grows Dolcetto. Just south of Piedmont, the region of Liguria has Dolcetto as well. Their argument has been refuted by many Piemontese, as there are records that the Marchesi del Carretto brought Dolcetto to Liguria centuries ago. This noble family has been around since the 11th century, by the way.

Ormeasco is the same grape as Dolcetto

Continuing on the subject of Dolcetto and Liguria, this Italian wine grape has a different name in this coastal region. Ligurians know this grape as Ormeasco. The irony strikes again about this grape’s origins, as the name Ormeasco derives from Ormea, a city in Piedmont. We advise not arguing this in Liguria. Just call it Ormeasco and listen to their side of the story!

It produces lovely, balanced red wines

You must be wondering – with the name like ‘little sweet one,’ this grape must produce very light-bodied, maybe even sweet wines? No, that isn’t the case. The name most likely comes from the delicate red-fruit aromas this grape typically possesses. Even more so, Dolcetto has an overall balanced and friendly character. It has firm tannins that are not harsh, with an easy-going acidity that makes this wine very drinkable. Its aromas can vary from cherries to raspberries to even violets.

It needs care in the vineyard

This grape may be friendly as a wine in the glass, but it’s a little difficult in the vineyard. Dolcetto is known to be very susceptible to rot, meaning it can’t grow just anywhere. It needs to have the right balance, or you risk losing some or your entire harvest. 

Freshly harvested Dolcetto grapes

Dolcetto has 11 different DOC(G)s in Piedmont

When exploring all the Dolcetto in Piedmont, you’ll have to go through 11 unique appellations that produce this grape. In Italian, these appellations are called DOCS (Controlled Denomination of Origins) and DOCGs (Controlled Denomination of Guaranteed Origin.)

Of course, it’s not a necessity to memorize them all (although it doesn’t hurt to discover them all!) Many of these DOCs are affiliated with specific areas in Piedmont. There’s Dolcetto d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, and Dolcetto d’Ovada, all DOCs alluding to their specific zones they come from. There’s also Dolcetto d’Aqui, Dolcetto della Lagnhe Monregalesi, and Langhe Dolcetto. Then, there’s Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Ovada Superiore, and Dolcetto Dogliani Superiore – three DOCGs to note.

Why is it important to know these? Well, each zone produces unique wines at various volumes. For example, Alba is known for producing larger quantities of Dolcetto, while Dogliani offers more structured, smaller batch versions of this wine.

Dogliani DOC produces the most renowned Dolcetto wine

Breaking down Dolcetto can seem a little bit overwhelming. But, of all the DOCs and DOCGs to know, Dogliani is one to note. This DOCG makes arguably the most pronounced Dolcetto. The wines are elegant, with round tannins and gorgeous red fruit aromas.

For the Dogliani DOCG, this wine must follow specific requirements. First, the wine must be produced with grapes from one of the 76 specific ‘crus’ in the Dogliani area. Then, the wine must be at least 12% alcohol and aged at least 12 months.

You can find Dolcetto outside of Italy, though…

It’s no surprise a delicious wine grape like Dolcetto traveled beyond its homeland. It’s not super common to find just anywhere, of course. But, winemakers in California, Australia, and New Zealand have taken a liking to this Piemontese grape, planting it in sites that suit the grape well. The resulting wines vary per grape clone and producer, just as they vary among the Piedmont DOC(G)s. 

Domenico Winery in San Matteo, California focuses on Cal-Italia varietals, including Dolcetto. Their 2016 Dolcetto brings tons of character to the table. The California heat lends it a fuller body and spice, making this wine a great companion to heavier pasta and meat dishes.

Love Dolcetto? Well, there are more Italian wines where this grape came from. Discover all the Italian grape 101 on our blog to sharpen your knowledge of the most popular Italian wines!