If we leaf through the precious pages of the Essay on a universal ampelography by Giuseppe dei Conti di Rovasenda (the illustrious ampelographer, whose bicentenary of birth occurs this year) published in 1877, under the heading “Dolcetto” we find a singular consideration, which today would sound unlikely: “This is perhaps the most widespread grape in Northern Italy (sic)”. The statement seems supported by another text of undoubted interest for the history of Piedmontese wine, Ampelography of the province of Alessandria, edited by P.P DeMaria and C. Leardi, the result of a series of studies initiated by the Ampelographic Commission of the Ministry of agriculture in April 1869: “It is a specific and characteristic vine of the upper Monferrato and of the vineyards of the sub-Apennine region, of the Tortonese hills up to those of the Mondovì district. In them (…) it dominates, one can say sovereign, now reaching a quarter, now a third, now half of the cultivation, and in some places forming almost the entirety of it”.

Without a shadow of a doubt, such a large, recognized and widespread presence has always supported the interpretation of the Piedmontese origin of the vine and, more precisely, of the cradle of Dolcetto in the area of lower Piedmont, a few steps from the border, purely administrative and “recent”, with Liguria.

The documentary evidence of the presence of the vine in this territory starts, at least for Piedmont, from the well-known citation of the ordinance issued by the municipality of Dogliani aimed at regulating the times and methods for the collection of “dozzetti”, of 1593, but other fascinating traces have fueled different interpretations of the origin. The most interesting is the edict of 1303 by the Podestà of Pornassio, Oddone II, Marquis of Clavesana, which imposes the cultivation of ormeasco (a name which today identifies, from an ampelographic point of view, a variety of sweet present in area of Pornassio, Nava, Ormea) in the territories administered by him. This perspective leads us, with a historically broader perspective, to consider the area of influence of the heirs of Bonifacio del Vasto from which the dynastic lines that ruled the fate of the Marquisates of Clavesana, namely Ceva, derived. Saluzzo and even the derivation of the Marquis del Carretto: a culturally uniform area, holder of control over the strategic points of the Salt Roads which explain a lot to us, including about wine and the diffusion of vines (not least the presence of Favorita in the Langhe).

The literature between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries seems to take the Piedmontese origin for granted, sometimes located in Monferrato or in the Asti Langa, other times shifting the center of gravity towards the Alba area. Count Giuseppe Nuvolone Pergamo di Scandeluzza, director of the Royal Agricultural Society of Turin at the beginning of the nineteenth century, defines it without hesitation as a “traditional Piedmontese vine”.

Subsequent ampelographic studies, in the face of an ever wider diffusion, however, describe it as a vine that is anything but simple to cultivate, rather demanding regarding pedoclimatic conditions but capable, in the right context, of producing “fine and quite resistant to aging” (Garino Canina) or, again, “in the most suitable locations (…) it is capable of becoming refined as it ages, enough to aerate Bordeaux” (Domizio Cavazza).

It is a late variety for budding, but early for veraison, so much so that it is taken as a reference for the ripening of Piedmontese black grapes. Dolcetto presents a particular sensitivity to humidity, seasonal temperatures and water availability in the soil, and there it produces wines that have always been appreciated for their chromatic exuberance, with intense, dense colours, from purple/amaranth to ruby and carmine. The freshness of the acidity is never too dynamic, it is the tannic texture, deeply Piedmontese, which provides Dolcetto with the best weapons to present itself at the regional table: among the most versatile wines in terms of structure and adaptability, it handles with great satisfaction both rich appetizers and the first courses with meat sauces, and, again, second courses of medium-structured meat, so much so that it has always been considered a wine truly “for the whole meal” (it is no coincidence that the symbol of everyday wine for the peasant tradition of the southern Langhe ).

Today it is sufficient to consult the data available on the vineyard areas in Piedmont, the true stronghold of Dolcetto, or listen to the historical producers of this variety, to perceive a completely different climate compared to the “photographs” described by the Count of Rovasenda or by the ministerial ampelographic commissions of ‘Newly united Italy: the trend of recent decades has dictated a progressive and unstoppable reduction of the vineyards dedicated to it, frequently converted to the cultivation of the more profitable Nebbiolo or other varieties that appear to be more in demand on the market. Despite

this evident decline in interest, the last twenty years have seen Dolcetto, like other traditional vines, embark on the path of valorising their own territorial specificities, with the establishment of 3 DOCGs in Piedmont, linked to the historical areas of the vine: from From 2005 to 2010, the Controlled and Guaranteed Designations of Origin “Dogliani”, “Diano d’Alba or Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba” and “Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore or Ovada” were born.

Today Dolcetto, standard bearer of the most noble and authentic tradition of southern Piedmont, finds itself facing a difficult challenge but full of opportunities: never before has the quality of production been as high as in recent years, the expertise of the producers in interpreting it is indisputable. At least two possible paths seem to be possible for the revaluation of Dolcetto: one passes through the contemporary aesthetics of drinking territorial wines but not too demanding in terms of structure, alcohol, extractive power, a sort of recovery of the immediate, simple and delicious image of the wine ” daily”, ideal viaticum to knowledge of the territory in pairing with food; the other, instead, proposes, supporting the personality of Dolcetto in some chosen territories, expressions of profound territorial loyalty even when this expresses wines of power, structure, complexity and longevity, offering completely different tasting experiences.

We could conclude that, between an observation and a wish, Dolcetto is the Piedmontese vine that today presents the widest potential for redefining its own paradigm, a future yet to be written… and tasted.

by Mauro Carosso President of AIS Piedmont