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Dolcetto

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Dolcetto is a red Italian wine grape variety widely grown in the Piemonte region of northwest Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means "little sweet one", but it is not certain that the name originally carried any reference to the grape’s sugar levels: it is possible that it derives from the name of the hills where the vine is cultivated. In any case the wines produced are nearly always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate, or decidedly low, levels of acidity and are typically meant to be consumed one to two years after release.

Dolcetto wines are known for black cherry, liquorice and some prune flavours, and a characteristically bitter finish reminiscent of almonds. While the name implies sweetness, the wines are normally dry and "Dolcetto" could refer to its low acidity that enhances the perception of the sweetness of its fruit flavours. The tannic nature of the grape contributes to a characteristic bitter finish. The dark purple skin of Dolcetto grapes have high amounts of anthocyanins, which require only a short maceration time with the skin to produce a dark-coloured wine. The amount of skin contact affects the resulting tannin levels in the wine, with most winemakers preferring to limit maceration time to as short as possible. During fermentation, the wine is prone to the wine fault of reduction.

One theory suggests the grape originated in France and was brought to Monferrato some time in the 11th century. A competing theory has the grape originating in the Piemontese village of Dogliani. In 1593, an ordinance of the municipality of Dogliani which forbade the harvesting of Dozzetti grapes earlier than Saint Matthew's Day, unless an exceptional authorisation had been granted, has been taken to refer to this variety, which is still known in local dialects under the names Duzet and Duset. A document of 1633 records the presence of Dolcetto in the cellars of the Arboreo family of Valenza. In 1700, Barnabà Centurione sent the wine as a gift to Queen Anne of Great Britain.

Along with the French grape Chatus, Dolcetto is a parent variety to several Piemontese grapes including Valentino Nero, Passus and San Martino.

Most Dolcetto is found in the Piemonte region of northwest Italy, where many of the top estates produce Dolcetto on less favoured sites as an "early to market wine" to generate some income for the winery while the Nebbiolo and Barbera are being matured. It is particularly associated with the towns of Dogliani and Diano d'Alba in the province of Cuneo, although the greatest volumes come from around Alba and Ovada. The grape is also found in Liguria under the name Ormeasco, and in the Oltrepò Pavese where it is called Nebbiolo or Nibièu.

Outside of Italy, Dolcetto is known as Douce Noire in Savoie and Charbono in California. However, DNA fingerprinting done at the University of California, Davis has shown that the actual Douce Noire and Charbono vines are not, in fact, Dolcetto, but two different vines. In spite of this confirmation, some plantings of true Dolcetto vines still retain the local synonyms in some areas of Savoie and California. Dolcetto was first brought to California by expatriate Italians, and there are also some plantings in Oregon as well as in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

Australia is home to the oldest current plantings of Dolcetto, with vines dating back to the 1860s.
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