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How Wines Age: The Unexpected Ovada

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Dolcetto d'Ovada Dolcetto d'Ovada

Not all red wines have the capacity to age well, and those that do can be difficult to drink when young. But a grape that traditionally makes young wines, Dolcetto, has proven not only to be wonderful when drunk young, but also to have the capacity to age for a significant amount of time when it comes from Ovada in the Monferrato.


 

Young versus old

Over 90% of red wine produced in the world is made to be drunk young, while less than 1 percent of the world’s wine is made to be aged for more than 5 years. Piemonte, like any well-rounded wine region, has excellent bottles of both.

Of course, when speaking of aged wines, the first two that come to mind are Piemonte’s most famous: Barolo and Barbaresco. These noble wines are best drunk aged, and whether that’s five or fifteen years depends on the vintage, producer, and many other factors. But, you can be sure that if you drink a two-year old Barbaresco or a three-year old Barolo (the youngest they can legally be released), they will probably feel harsh or aggressive.

The bulk of red wine produced in Piemonte is meant to be drunk young. Two classic Piemontese examples are Barbera and Dolcetto. Leaving these wines to age too long will only cause them to go flabby – unless, of course, we’re talking about Dolcetto d'Ovada.

 

What makes a wine age-worthy?

Many scientific factors go into explaining this, but the most important ones are the grape variety, where it grows, the vintage, and how the winemaker handles the grapes. All of these play together to create the levels of tannins (and other phenols), acidity, and sugar – and the ratio of water to these elements. It is the interplay and balance of all of these that determines a wine’s capacity to age.

Aged Dolcetto d'Ovada

Tannins are found in grape skins, and so the tannic level in a grape depends in part on variety. However, the soil plays a part in this, too: with a nutrient-rich soil, a grape will develop less tannins; in hardscrabble, nutrient-poor soil that forces the vine to reach its roots deeper into the earth, the grapes will give wine a more powerful tannic structure. A more powerful tannic structure means the wine has a better aging potential, but only in respect to the above-mentioned factors.

 

Why Dolcetto d’Ovada can age

Dolcetto grapes grown in the Ovada zone develops a different structure than Dolcetto grown elsewhere, such as Alba or Asti. And it is this structure, which comes from the earth and from the cellar, that allows it to age for much longer than any other Dolcetto. Specifically, its incredible, bright acidity has a strength and a staying power that gives older Dolcetto d’Ovada – 10 or even 20 years old – their fresh, vibrant quality for which this variety is known and appreciated.

What are Dolcetto's top 3 territories in Piemonte for its best expression?
→ A Mini Guide to Dolcetto

Dolcetto is usually a wine high in tannins but low in acidity (while Barbera is the opposite with high acidity and little to no tannic structure). Returning to our earlier example of age-worthy wines, Nebbiolo has a higher acidity level than Dolcetto; but Dolcetto grapes that are grown in Ovada soils develop this higher level of acidity. Remember, it’s the ratio of tannins, acidity, and sugar to water in a grape that creates a solid base for an age-worthy wine.

 

It’s time to taste Ovada!

The Consortium for the Protection of Ovada DOCG (Consorzio di Tutela dell’Ovada DOCG) together with Giuseppe Martelli of Enoteca Quartino di Vino held a vertical wine tasting called “It’s Time for Ovada” (E’ tempo per Ovada: Condividi) in late January to demonstrate the aging potential of this area’s wine. Giuseppe hosted the tasting in his enoteca’s old, stone cellars, where we tasted 14 wines. Each wine was a different vintage spanning 1985-2010 and coming from a different producer (some no longer existing). The wines represented 11 townships out of the 22 that comprise the Ovada denomination.

Dolcetto d'Ovada, Pino Ratto

Dolcetto d’Ovada is a bright, ruby red wine that is fruity yet dry, medium-bodied and soft, long-lasting with an almost bitter almond aftertaste. It must be aged at least 14 months, and 24 months for the Superiore label. Because it’s fresh and juicy when young yet still lively and going strong when aged for several years, you can pair it with different food depending on age. If you’re drinking a younger Dolcetto, first dishes of pasta with meat ragù are perfect, as are second courses of red meat. As an aged wine, Dolcetto d’Ovada is excellent with aged cheeses.

 

Tasting notes

I was surprised several times by the zing of acidity that kept even the older wines fresh. Overall, I noted Dolcetto’s fruitiness and the bitter almond notes that are so common to this wine.

The wines that we tasted:

2010 La Piria “Du Sü,” Rocca Grimalda
2009 Facchino “Carasӧi,” Rocca Grimalda
2007 Cascina Boccia, Tagliolo Monferrato
2007 Ca del Bric “Bricco Trionzo,” Montaldo
2006 Casa Wallace, Cremolino
2004 La Ghera “Albareto,” Molare
2003 Cascina Gentile, Capriata d’Orba
1999 Tenuta Mosé “Val Mosé,” Ovada
1999 La Guardia “Il Gamondino,” Morsasco
1998 Ghio "L'Arciprete," Bosio
1996 Castello di Grillano, Ovada
1993 Pino Ratto “Le Olive,” Ovada
1990 Cascina Bagun, Bisio Giancarlo, Carpeneto
1985 Luigi Pesce, Silvano d’Orba

Some of the wines that stood out to me:

2007 Ca’ del Bric “Bricco Trionzo”
Clear, crisp aroma, with notes of cherry and a hint of herbs. In the mouth, complex with floral notes and liquorice.

2007 Cascina Boccia Superiore
One of my favorites was aged not at all in wood, but in 100% stainless steel. This tasted of bright red cherry and even a hint of chocolate, with smooth tannins and an elegance that other barrel-aged Dolcetto d’Ovada didn’t possess. I’m no winemaker, but this might be an interesting path to try with aging Dolcetto d’Ovada!

2004 La Ghera “Albareto” Superiore
Aged in stainless steel and wood, juicy with a great acidity that wasn’t overpowering. A hefty wine that satisfies.

1999 La Guardia “Il Gamondino” Superiore
Aged only in stainless steel. Great balance between powerful tannins and acidity.

1993 Pino Ratto “Le Olive”
On the nose, spiced and heady. Pino Ratto’s philosophy was to ripen the grapes to full maturity before harvesting them, and to re-use old barriques. It had an incredibly bright acidity and left my mouth feeling clean.

1985 Luigi Pesce
Aged in chestnut barrels. The almond bitterness to it was a little too noticeable, but the lasting cinnamon sensation won me over.

 

Dolcetto d’Ovada paired with…

After the tasting, we headed upstairs for a delicious lunch paired with even more Dolcetto d’Ovada. The meal was part of the initiative Menù Ovada, which includes 5 different restaurants in Ovada serving traditional food paired with the wines of the area.

Menu Ovada with agnolotti del plin and boney

The wines that we tasted with our meal were all different than those we had tasted downstairs, so we got the chance to taste all the Consortium members’ wines. They were paired with vitello tonnato, or paper-thin sliced veal with a creamy tuna sauce, and a vegetable flan with a quick dip of bagna cauda; agnolotti del plin (and one winemaker poured Dolcetto d’Ovada straight over it, a delicious way to eat it!), and bonet, a sort of chocolate-amaretti pudding. All dishes were strictly Piemontese, and paired perfectly with the Dolcetto. 


A special thanks to the Consortium of Ovada and to the Enoteca Quartino di Vino for hosting the event and lunch, and to Tomaso Armento of Forti del Vento for the invitation.

Sources:

Consortium for the Protection of Ovada DOCG, www.ovada.eu
Guild of Sommeliers, The Wines of Barolo and Barbaresco video
Kevin Zraly, www.windowswineschool.com 

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