Friday, February 22, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

The three most important red grapes in the Piemonte region of northwestern Italy are nebbiolo, barbera, and dolcetto. Nebbiolo is by far the most renowned of the three, as it is used to make Barolo and Barbaresco, the king and queen of Italian wines. Barbera is the overshadowed child, with a good reputation in its own right but not one that can really compare to nebbiolo. Dolcetto is the red-headed stepchild of the three. It doesn't get much respect, either by wine critics (who often think of it as a simple, easy-drinking, and unserious wine) or by many growers, who relegate it to the second-rate vineyard locations and use its wine as a way to generate cash flow while their nebbiolo-based wines are maturing.

Well, I don't really have an objection to a wine that is simple and easy-drinking so long as it's good, and I don't understand criticizing wine for being "unserious." What is that supposed to mean, anyway? Wine is, or ought to be, primarily a beverage to be enjoyed, not an intellectual exercise. I any event, I have read from people whose opinions I respect that dolcetto frequently makes enjoyable, delicious wine. So what do I care what the critics say? The bottle that I picked up (for around $15) is a 2005 Gagliardo Dolcetto d'Alba. The producer, Gianni Gagliardo, has two separate lines. True to the stereotype, the upper of these two lines (Gianni Gagliardo) is almost exclusively nebbiolo-based, with one barbera and one favorita (a Piemontese white grape). Wines in this line probably cause some controversy amongst the critics because they all appear to be aged in small French oak barriques, which is a big departure from traditional winemaking techniques in the Piemonte (large Slovenian oak barrels, mostly used and approaching neutrality, were traditionally used). The lower line is called simply Gagliardo, and the producer calls the bottlings in this line "young family wines." In addition to the Dolcetto d'Alba, there's a Barbera d'Alba, a Roero Arneis (another white grape), and a favorita. None of them see any oak -- brief "aging" in stainless steel is it. That's fine with me. I'm not big on oak in wine, anyway, and I'm looking for a wine to drink now, not age for a few years.

This wine has a very interesting nose (and in this case, "interesting" is good). The dominant note is this odd copper aroma -- take a stack of pre-1983 pennies and give them a whiff, and you'll know what I mean -- and it's mixed in with rose petals and a gamey note. I like it. It's juicy on the palate, with a good deal of dark fruit. There also is a not insignificant amount of tannin, and a good bit of acidity. My only real complaint is that it started out a bit short, but that changed a bit as it spent some time open and in the glass. Very enjoyable.

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