When’s the last time you drank Dolcetto?  Probably Roagna about two years ago for me.  I really just have never been that taken with Dolcetto.  Perhaps I have not taken it seriously because no one else does.  No one else except Nicoletta Bocca of San Fereolo that is.

The Dogliani was a recommendation from September Wines and I was prepared to dismiss it immediately with the thought of having to suffer another underwhelming Dolcetto, but I was told this was very serious stuff which spoke a different language.  The recommendation proved to be right.  In fact, I could not even approach this wine the first night as the tannins were so tough.  As unyielding as the toughest Barolo.  So I put the cork back in it and hoped for something better the next night.  And the magic happened.  On the second and third nights the San Fereolo Dogliani was singing.  Best Dolcetto ever, no doubt.  I would put it alongside a very good Barolo any day and it would hold it’s own.  Think of it as perhaps a Barolo which matched its angular tannins with a touch of softness.

I don’t have a formal review but to say that I highly recommend anyone who is hating on the Dolcetto to try this extraordinary wine.  Or perhaps you are looking for a fantastic Nebbiolo alternative, well here it is.  By the label’s admission (and I am translating loosely from the Italian here folks), the Dogliani is made from old vine Dolcetto, 30-60 years old and sees one year in oak.  But there is more to the story, so here is what the San Fereolo website has to say about the San Fereolo Dogliani Dolcetto:

Dolcetto is still an undiscovered variety and the boundaries of its expressive potential are yet to be explored. For historical reasons and because of common cellar practices, this grape has long been considered capable of giving us only simple wines, with immediate fruit character. Here in Dogliani on the other hand, we believe that if we work to create wines of structure, Dolcetto will amaze you with its aging potential and its character, typically Piedmontese in its austerity and tannic structure and polished by its understated elegance.

A completely different idea of Dolcetto, based on the stubborn belief that the expressive capacity of this grape goes well beyond the ordinary perception of Dolcetto as a young drinking wine. An idea that enhances the ‘Nebbiolo’ characters of this grape, by seeking out the challenges of the tannins of Dolcetto and its unusual aromas. Special attention is given to these grapes in the vineyards, while in the cellar we work to create a wine with the potential to age and to express itself, changing over time. It should be judged on a separate scale for its ability to astonish.

San Fereolo, is produced only with Dolcetto grapes, from vines that are between 40 and 70 years old. The land is located in the commune of Dogliani, in the vineyards known as San Fereolo, Austri, Costabella, and Cerri Sottani that range from 400 to 500 meters above sea level. Exposed from the southeast to the southwest, these vineyards have medium texture, limestone dominated soil. They are based in the sub zones of Valdiba’ and Valdiberti both capable of giving life to structured and tannic wines. The vines are cultivated using a simple Guyot with different plant densities depending on the age of the vines, ranging from 4000 to 5000 vines per hectare. The plots are cultivated according to the principles of biodynamic agriculture that foresee a different approach to soil fertility and the use of copper and sulphur in very small quantities. The yield of wine per hectare varies according to the year from 35 to 45 hectoliters.

Hand-picked and brought to the cellar in fifty-pound boxes, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed before going into wooden vats, where they ferment without the use of selected yeasts or additives. The temperature is not controlled unless it goes over 33 degrees, favouring not only the primary components of the fruit, but the extraction and development of more complex aromas. In 2006, the maceration lasted for 20 days and when the wine was drawn from the skins there was still some residual sugar.

After the alcoholic fermentation, the malolactic fermentation follows, which starts spontaneously. Next the wine is moved to other wooden vats of various sizes from 7 to 40 hectoliters and is left in contact with the fine lees for at least six months with batonnages, which become less frequent as the aging period proceeds. The wine is then gradually separated from the lees by racking, and a light clarification is performed before bottling, which takes place the second year after the harvest. A year of bottle aging follows.

2006 was a vintage that started regularly and as a consequence no one foresaw such an accelerated end. In late August and early September intense heat coupled with the right amount of water in the soil, enabling an unexpected acceleration of fruit ripening. Harvest started quickly between the 6th and 8th of September, an early vintage, but not comparable to 2003 due to the different duration and timing of the high temperatures. Wines of extraordinary intensity, with an important alcohol content balanced by fruit and acidity. Strict choices in the cellar were dictated by our decision to adhere to the rules outlined in the Renaissance des Appellations Charter of quality. This approach allowed the wines to evolve and to face their critical moments in complete autonomy, even while under the watchful and participating eye of the winemaker. The fermentation of the sugars ended naturally but very late with a balanced volatile acidity that sustains the powerful body of this wine.

For those who already have their own idea of Dolcetto this wine is an unexpected surprise and requires and open mind to new perspectives. Initially closed in its aromas, it opens steadily with discretion and continuity, maintaining a remarkable freshness and consistency. The 2006 is an intense ruby colour with ethereal aromas, then red fruit: blackberry, raspberry, pomegranate and red plum, followed by notes that remind us of star anise, ink and a light toasty aroma. In the mouth it’s broad and complex, well rounded and wrapped in fruity freshness. Tannins, which are not overwhelming, blend with an elegant and silky texture, ending with a slightly mineral finish.