Just two barrels were made of this 2019 Dolcetto experiement. Fermented with about 40% whole clusters I was curious to see how Dolcetto's rich red fruit would interact with some stems included in fermentation. The result was even more candied red fruit but now framed by pepper and spice tones moving it in a more serious mid-weight red direction. Not sure why but we have found that Doilcetto needs significant time aging in bottle, so we hold it back until at least two years pass when not making a low-alcohol lightweight style.
90 points - Wine Enthusiast: "This flavorful, smoky and moderately tannic wine offers black-pepper, bell-pepper and charred meat aromas backed by black-fruit flavors. It's lively..."
You may remember that we released a 2019 Dolcetto in our wine club about 18 months ago. In that writeup I bemoaned my troubled relationship with that damn grape. It is very smoke sensitive, so sometimes it just isn’t meant to be. It can be overly straightforward fruit-wise, not really having a strong varietally-driven identity, and a tendency toward heavy tannin without the stuffing to really make a big red. Plus in Italy it is considered a cheap grape, planted in Piemonte’s worst locations. It is also very prone to mildew and stem necrosis, and produces huge bunches that overcrop easily, catching it in a vicious circle of mediocre wine while living in the shadows of noble Nebbiolo and Barbera.
It is “Dolce” because it ripens early and lacks acid, making it seem abnormally sweet compared to other grapes on the vine in that same moment. It also has a confusing world of biotypes, some with red stems, some very fragile, all hating too much heat and too much cold, and loving calcareous soil that is pretty rare in California. With all of this in mind I took a strong left-hand turn with our Dolcetto program in 2019 and decided to explore two very different interpretations from the same block of grapes to satisfy my own curiosity. The one we released two year ago was the light and bright version that was picked early, made with 10% Chardonnay, and kept out of barrels for freshness. Gamay was the inspiration. This bottling is the opposite – picked about 20 days later and from the riper half of the vineyard, then foot-crushed with 50% whole cluster and kept in barrels for one+ year. I had hoped to release them together as fun side-by-side comparison set, but this beast took much longer than expected to calm down in the bottle due to the extra tannin from stems and a long fermentation. The difference? Yes. Much. Super red fruit rather than the plum of the other bottling, spicy, peppery, kind of like a Cabernet Franc. With air the cherry-plus-pine really comes forward. It is remarkable to me that the other bottling is much more on the purple-fruit side from picking earlier (the opposite is usually true) while this one is pure red fruit, which is more typical of Dolcetto historically. Some people even get the blast of almond skin that is considered the garpe's classical marker. As expected, this one is more tactile, and changes quite a bit while it breathes. Remember that our 2015 Dolcetto didn’t start drinking well until 2020! Funny that such a widely-dismissed grape can have such a temperamental and multifarious nature, and a serious aging capacity!
Vineyard: The Dolcetto block was planted in 2001, consisting of one acre on an east-facing slope. Clone 01 on St. George roots with 2-wire California sprawl trellising. Dolcetto throws huge bunches – Nebbiolo size or larger – and is extremely mildew sensitive, so careful canopy work is a must to keep things open, but not too exposed. It also dumps acid like crazy, so crop balance is very finicky in trying to hold acid but having lots of tannin. Dolcetto wins the award for biggest pain in the ass grape.
Vintage: 2019. Lots of rain, more than double “normal average” with an inch falling in June! It even rained lightly three times before the end of the season, practically Tuscan. July and August were very hot, taking us from two weeks late to one week early. The temperature rollercoaster was a good thing in the macro however, even though 6 days without electricity at the winery was challenging. Cold nights came fast after the hot early season. From mid-September on things were gloriously mild with cold nights and days just kissing 85F over and over again. A year to pick on acidity in the end. 2019 was also the last great easy vintage for Lake County.
Label Image: The 11th key of Basil Basil Valentine in The Golden Tripod. “In order to multiply in weight, volume, and Perfection, the Fixed Stone re-absorbs a new quantity of Mercury, being in the process redissolved, that is “dying” again. Each multiplication speeds elaboration and power tenfold.
92% Dolcetto, 8% Chardonnay
Yield: 3.5 tons per acre
No racking until bottling
48 cases produced
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