Azienda Agricola Mossio Fratelli, a producer of fruity, concentrated, full-bodied Dolcetto d’Alba, demonstrates the greatness of this traditional variety and how, despite recent lows in production, Dolcetto’s future looks promising.
Mossio Fratelli Winery
In Piemonte, the triumvirate of red grapes is Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. They are the most commercially and traditionally important red wines in much of Piemonte, and brothers Valerio and Remo Mossio grow exclusively these three grapes. “You can do beautiful whites, too, but for me the Langhe is for reds with longevity,” says Valerio.
The Mossio winery sits at the end of a gravel road in Rodello, a small town located just 11 km south of Alba. On the edge of Alta Langa territory, which refers to the high altitude, alta, hills of southern Piemonte, it overlooks a stunning view of the Langhe at 360°. This is Dolcetto d’Alba territory.
Valerio, Remo, and their family cultivate over half of their 11 hectares (27 acres) with Dolcetto, dedicating about 2 hectares (5 acres) each to Barbera and Nebbiolo. Every winemaker is passionate about his or her vocation – essential for committing one’s life to wine production – but within that broader context, the Mossio brothers dedicate their passion to Dolcetto d’Alba. The zone is perfectly suited to growing the often-difficult variety. The vines benefit from ideal exposition, which gives its vineyards sun all day long, and its well-ventilated position, which helps reduce the chance of mold growth in these vines whose foliage grows thick.
Valerio Mossio in the "wine library;" Barrel room (picture compliments of mossio.com)
Valerio gave me a tour of his vineyards, pointing out the crème de la cru Caramelli. It’s hard to miss it: the hill is the highest point of land in the surrounding territory at 500 m asl. Dolcetto withstands this high elevation better than other local varieties, especially Nebbiolo. We walked through the 18th century cellars and rooms once echoing with the voices of friars; as the skeletal remains of a bell tower attest, this winery was once a religious fraternity. Stepping into a cool cellar with a vaulted brick ceiling, Valerio introduced me to his “wine library,” where bottles of Dolcetto dating back to the early 1900s lined the shelves.
Dolcetto, the grape and the wine
Dolcetto is one of Piemonte’s most important wine grapes. Don’t be fooled by its name, which means “little sweet one.” This etymology might refer to its grapes, whose low acidity made these once popular for snacking on as table grapes; though other sources say it comes from the Piemontese dialect for “hill,” duset.
Dolcetto d’Alba is a fruity, dry red wine. It is known for its freshness and vibrant directness, with immediate fruity and floral aromas. It is both easily drinkable and capable of developing great complexity and structure. Although its lower acidity does not generally lend it to aging for decades in the cellar, some bottles are indeed made for aging, especially Superiore. Common aromas and flavors are red and black cherry, prune, blueberry, and a final, almost bitter almond note.
Dolcetto versus Nebbiolo: trends in the Langhe
Valerio says that Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king, praised Dolcetto d’Alba from these very hills in the 1800s, but in the more recent past Dolcetto has not had an easy time on the market. It is often overshadowed to the great red of Piemonte – Nebbiolo – and as a result once suffered from poor quality and communication. In these hills that lie directly between the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco, the most prized plots are often reserved for growing Nebbiolo. However, Rodello and its neighbor Montelupo are largely cultivated with Dolcetto, perhaps owing to their higher altitude. These towns give two of the very best expressions of Dolcetto d’Alba.
Even today, Dolcetto is often passed over in favor of Nebbiolo. A trend in the past three years has been to uproot Dolcetto vineyards to replant with Nebbiolo vines.
Trends in the Langhe
According to data from the Consorzio Grandi Langhe DOCG, bottle production of Dolcetto di Dogliani, Diano d’Alba, and d’Alba from 2013-2014 has fallen a whopping 43%, 25%, and 29%, respectively; and the land cultivated for these wines has fallen the most out of all Langhe wines. It has grown for Barolo, Barbaresco, and – at an impressive 16.5% – Langhe DOC Nebbiolo.
“Losing old Dolcetto vineyards to Nebbiolo is a shame,” says Valerio, “but I can see why some might choose this path. Dolcetto is much more difficult to produce than Nebbiolo.” It requires more care in the vineyard, first of all. The leaves grow more compactly, requiring longer manual work to thin. His vines are planted at two or three times the distance as his Nebbiolo and Barbera to allow for light and ventilation.
Valerio Mossio pointing out how his Nebbiolo vines grow naturally less bushy than Dolcetto
In addition, Dolcetto has one of the shortest growing cycles of reds, and it is the first red to ripen in mid to late September. A shorter growing season gives less room for weather anomalies to be corrected with an eleventh-hour blessing of sun, which other red grapes like Barbera (late September to early October harvest) and Nebbiolo (October harvest) can enjoy. A wine’s quality starts in the vineyard, and one faulty note in Dolcetto will prevail even after vinification, when other varieties accept compensation in the cellar. “It is very hard to keep Dolcetto’s aroma clean,” says Valerio. “However, it’s best not to replace Dolcetto with Nebbiolo if you don’t believe in it.” In other words, follow your passion and your land’s vocation, not the fickle trends of the wine world.
Although data suggests otherwise, Dolcetto’s future looks promising abroad.
Quality and communication about Dolcetto are both improving, and its popularity abroad is coincidentally growing. In point of fact, 80% of Mossio’s wine is exported. Valerio sees great potential in the American market, in particular. “Dolcetto is perfect for international cuisine, and Americans are eager to try new pairings. Plus, in restaurants and wine bars, good quality wine by the glass is very popular. Here, it’s still more common to find lower quality wine by the glass, and you have to buy the bottle if you want something better.” You know the table wine that comes in carafes in every restaurant in Italy? It makes for great quaffing, perhaps, but sophisticated dining? Not so much.
Dolcetto and Piemontese wines are like the Piemontese people. They need a moment to open up.
Communicating the complicated tangle of Italian wines abroad is no simple feat, but Valerio was able to summarize Dolcetto and Piemontese wines in a memorable way. “Dolcetto and Piemontese wines are like the Piemontese people. They need a moment to open up. At first, Dolcetto’s tannins might be coarse and the wine might seem astringent, but give it some time to soften up. And of course, they all go great with food.”
This is good advice especially for a Piemontese wine first-timer. Anyone used to fruit bombs or intense, oak-derived vanilla notes may not immediately take to Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, or the many other Piemontese reds and whites that have made this wine country famous. But come back, please. Return to the bottle with a plate of pasta (agnolotti, if possible) or meat (carne cruda, anyone?), give the wine an hour or even several – and try it again. You will find its tannins have softened and its aromas have blossomed. You will wonder what took you so long to discover Piemontese wines.
Dolcetto d'Alba paired with the family's homegrown, toasted hazelnuts
Azienda Agricola Mossio Fratelli
ia Montà, 12 – 12050 Rodello (Cuneo)
Tel e Fax +39 0173617149