01/23/2012 12:34 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

A Grape That Could Use Some Love: Dolcetto

By Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor, Food & Wine

Follow Ray on Twitter: @islewine

Dolcetto has a tough time getting the attention it deserves. Mainly its problem is that it's grown in Piedmont, in Italy. The other red grapes that are grown in Piedmont? Well, first there's Nebbiolo, the grape in Barolo, which means Dolcetto is competing against a beverage that's been known since as the mid-1800s as "the wine of kings and the king of wines." Not a fair fight. Then there's Barbera, which is kind of the Avis to Nebbiolo's Hertz. It's number two. It tries harder. Which leaves Dolcetto as, what, the Rent-a-Wreck of grapes?

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When I am the emperor of reality, after the bazillion dollars and the private island and the sudden ascent to George Clooney-like savoir faire, I am going to give Dolcetto a little boost. It's a nifty grape. It makes juicy, lively, affordable and delicious reds, with a flavor that suggests black cherries and a faint, intriguing touch of bitterness. Dolcetto isn't meant for deep thought but simply for happy drinking. You can chill it lightly. You can serve it with burgers. Hey, you could put it in a CamelBak and take it up a mountain. Dolcetto is fine with that. It would make me think of my Italian grandmother back in Alba and her great homemade agnolotti, except that I'm mostly Irish plus some random Welsh-German craziness and the only thing I remember my grandmother cooking was toast.

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So, Dolcetto. Go buy a bottle. Invite some friends over. Get a pizza. Drink the stuff. Don't think about it—there are plenty of other things think about. Besides, how can you not love a grape whose name translates as "little sweet one?"

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5 Dolcettos to Hunt Down
  1. 2009 Elio Grasso (17) The rich fruit here recalls pomegranate rather than cherry.
  2. 2008 Renato Ratti Colombè (15) Mild tannins make this a good candidate for a light chill; an ideal picnic red, in other words.
  3. 2009 Cavallotto Vigna Scot (16) Dark fruit and soft tannins make this a good introduction to the Dolcetto variety.
  4. 2009 Borgogno (20) An old-school producer making old-school wine: earthy and herbal, rather than fruity and ripe.
  5. 2009 Massolino (20) Clear, precise flavors define this streamlined red.

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