Some believe that the name Dolcetto comes from “duset”, a term used for a low hill on which it is typically grown, however, the more probable explanation rests on the fact that the sweetness of these grapes is more distinct than in other classic Piedmont varieties. In fact, when eating Dolcetto grapes, the acidity will be far less noticeable than in Barbera grapes, in which case it often overshadows the perception of sweetness. The tannins of Dolcetto, as they are mainly concentrated in the pips, will be less apparent than those found in Nebbiolo grapes where they are mainly contained in the skins and are, therefore, immediately astringent. The name Dolcetto, then, is most likely due to comparisons made with Piedmont’s other common grape varieties. The wine, in spite of its name, is decidedly not sweet; rather, it’s quite dry and exhibits pleasant hints of almond.
Dolcetto is one of the most diffused varieties in the southern part of Piedmont and many still argue for the right to claim their own area as being its birthplace. The Gallesio area claims that it originated in the Monferrato hills. Others believe that it was imported by the Saracens from Asia Minor and planted in Ormea in the XIVth century by decree of the Marquise of Clavesana and that it comes from the hills between Liguria and Piedmont where it was once called Ormeasco. Then again, many rely on a document from 1593 kept in the archives at Dogliani as written evidence of its existence there. Dolcetto is cultivated all over the Langhe within the province of Cuneo and it can be found in the Monferrato Astigiano, in the upper Monferrato, around Acqui Terme, and as far as Ovada, in the province of Tortona, in an arc that follows the sub-Appennine slopes of southern Piedmont. The only exception is the Moscato-growing region where, for historical and economic reasons, Moscato gradually replaced Dolcetto vines once the sparkling wine industry took off.
This grape clearly prefers the Apennine foothills and it is by accident that it is grown all across the stretch of hills where the Lower and the Upper Langhe meet. This may also be because there is more competition from other varieties cultivated down in the lower, flatter lands, where the excessive heat can cause Dolcetto to ripen too quickly: this is a grape that performs best in cooler climes. Apart from this part of Piedmont, the variety has not found other soils or climates where it may flourish so well and, despite some attempts were made to grow it elsewhere, it has firmly remained indigenous to these hills.
Dolcetto wine is classified into eleven appellations, including three DOCG appellations:
Dolcetto di Diano o Diano Docg
Colli Tortonesi dolcetto