The honesty and humility of Nicola Chionetti and his family’s wines
Last week, IWM had a chance to meet with Nicola Chionetti, grandson of esteemed wine-producing pioneer Quinto Chionetti, and future owner of and winemaker for the famed Dolcetto producing estate.
You don’t often get the opportunity to see how tradition and heritage transfer from grandfather to grandson, in the absence of a father. As ambassador to his grandfather’s estate, Nicola is meticulous and confident, yet he shows humility and gives you an idea of his familial legacy. He is attentive to who and what surrounds him.
Nicola poured some of his new vintages for us, and I must say that we are all in for a treat when these are released. Each wine from the Chionetti estate portrays its land, its character, and its purpose.
I asked Nicola what his family’s winemaking philosophy is, and he replied, “My grandfather use to say: ‘It’s a question of truth.’ The truth is in how the wine reflects the soil while portraying the personality of its maker – we believe that our wine is true to both and hope that it reflects some elegance as well.”
Tasting through the estate’s line-up, I have to agree that Chionetti wines are elegant and honest expressions of land, grape, tradition and the tight-knit family who makes them. Plus, they’re delicious and affordable!
Two expert selections from Will Di Nunzio
I’ve picked unlikely pair for my selections today, both from Piemonte and both extraordinary. The first is a little known Dolcetto from Dogliani (twenty minutes south of Barolo) that Sergio is enamored with and the second is a well-known producer—Angelo Gaja–with a wine that many have never had, especially not one this old. I drank both recently, and both bottles were a phenomenal experience. This just goes to show that even though these are not blockbuster wines like Barolo or Barbaresco, Piemonte offers many outstanding wines for our enjoyment.
Quinto Chionetti 2010 San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani $27.95
This Dolcetto is not like any other you may have had. It’s not fruity; it’s not grapey; nor is it something you need to drink within two years. No, this beautifully balanced wine is structured, and presents an elegance that rivals most $75 bottles. Organically made and incredible smooth after some decanting, this wine can age for a decade. It follows a tradition that began over 100 years ago when the estate was founded in 1912. I highly recommend this Chionetti Dolcetto for your daily drinking—you’ll be more than surprised.
Gaja 1985 Darmagi $309.00
The magic of Gaja never ceases to amaze, but many wine-lovers don’t bother with his wines that are not Barbaresco. This is a big mistake! This Cabernet Sauvignon wine (now blended with Cab Franc and Merlot) was a knockout! Darmagi, meaning “what a pity,” is a name given by Angelo’s father, who thought it was a shame that Angelo used a prized vineyard site in Barbaresco for Cabernet grapes. Little did he know that Angelo would go on to make one of the finest Cabs in Italy. Sergio and I had this wine together a few weeks ago at IWM over dinner with some friends and clients. It was incredibly smooth, round, elegant and medium weighted; in its prime, this ’85 Darmagi was just shocking. I couldn’t believe how delicious it was. I highly recommend it for any one who loves Cab.
A look back at the week that was
We began this week with our own Francesco Vigorito on Aspen television station Aspen 82’s television show The Lift talking about Italian Wine Merchants, Italian wine and Cupano Brunello. We ended the week with David Bertot’s flawless pairing of a California Cabernet and a juicy porterhouse steak. In between, John Camacho Vidal enjoyed a delicious under $28 artisanal Dolcetto and Julia Punj poured another amazing cocktail–an Italian twist on the French 75! It’s all in the service of living beautifully, deliciously and stylishly–and bringing a little bit of Italy’s La Dolce Vita to America.
Our Experts took a similarly cosmopolitan twist. David Gwo saluted Josko Gravner, Friuli’s most iconoclastic producer, with a pair of Gravner’s Anfora wines. Crystal went to California for her white wine selections from Kistler and Sine Qua Non. And Robin Kelley O’Connor hearkened back to his Bordeaux roots with choices of a Sauternes from Château Rieussec, and a Saint-Émilion from Château Bélair-Monange.
Cheers to you and to living well. It’s more than the best revenge; it’s gift you give yourself.
A delicious under $28 artisanal bottling from a Dolcetto specialist
I knew that Dolcetto had many DOCG regions—it has seven, to be exact, and I knew that always enjoy Dolcetto as an everyday drinker, so I was excited to try the Quinto Chionetti San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani 2010. Dolcettos are among my favorite go-to wines at home because of their versatility. I always say that if you are invited to a dinner and do not know what is being served, bring a Dolcetto, and you should be fine as they pair well with so many varieties of foods.
The name Dolcetto means “little sweet one” in Italian, and along with Nebbiolo and Barbera it is one of Piemonte’s signature grapes. Evidence suggests that this grape has been growing in Piemonte for centuries and it’s traditionally produced as a light (both in color and weight) table wine that you’re meant to drink one to two years after release. The wines made from Dolcetto are known for a light purple color, and its low tannins that make them easy to drink. Depending on which DOC they come from you can find black cherry and licorice with some prune flavors, light cherry, raspberry—sometimes jammy—with hints of spice. And while the name implies a sweet wine there is nothing sweet about them. They are normally dry wines.
I found that the Quinto Chionetti fits with the recent the trend is for bold Dolcetto versions made from grapes that have been given a longer hang time to amplify their power and age-worthiness. This trend now gives us two distinct Dolcetto styles: a traditional light style as well as a big, concentrated style. While traditional styles are light purple in color with low tannins, the modern styles are much darker in color with heavier body, blackberry, dark cherry, black currant, prunes, licorice, coffee and dark chocolate. The Quinto Chionetti San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani 2010 was an intense ruby color with purple reflections. The nose had warm pleasant aroma of berries, currants, spice and mineral with a slight herbal tone mixed with perfume and flowers. The palate was full with great freshness and balance, as well as good weight, offering fruit, followed by some dusty earth, herbs, a nice minirality and somewhat chewy tannins. This wine is joy that will make you rediscover the grape all over again.
Quinto Chionetti, whose name has become synonymous of the Dolcetto di Dogliani, is 83 years old; he’s essentially the soul of the estate and is known as a laborious winemaker who is loyal to tradition and is respectful of his land. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, who made wine since the beginning of the 20th century (1912), gaining reputation for their quality wine resulting from low yields and rigorous selections. Like his forefathers, Quinto makes his wines are from high altitude, organic vines and only natural yeast.
Widely considered the highest, purest Dolcetto expression, Dolcetto from the Dogliani was elevated to DOCG status and grown to the virtual exclusion of other varieties. Dolcetto di Dogliani (also labeled simply “Dogliani”) is dark and low-yielding; it’s picked later and super-selected. It’s concentrated, with weight and structure that is foreign to other Dolcettos. It’s a wine that can be mouth puckering and tight, but with a bit of time in the cellar, you get a satisfying, rich, chunky, vigorous wine that offers a new, surprising side that you would not imagine from Dolcetto. This certainly was my experience when I tasted the San Luigi Dolcetto Dogliani 2010–and for under $28, it can be yours too!
The approachable dark beauties of Piemonte’s Dolcetto wines
Its name translates to the “little sweet one,” but Dolcetto is a deceptive little bugger. Those who expect a sweet red wine from Dolcetto will likely be disappointed. Although its name suggests sweetness, it’s the grape–not the wine–that is sweet. In fact, a common characteristic of Dolcetto is its satisfying slight bitterness, a result of fermentation of the fruit’s high level of sugar. Another reason for its name is the berry’s low acidity; less acid means less competition with the sugar, thereby emphasizing its sweet flavor.
A Piemonte native, Dolcetto makes for spicy light to medium-bodied wine that is primarily grown in the Langhe region. Produced under seven different DOC classifications, d’Alba, d’Asti, and di Dogliani are the best known. Ampelographers date the Dolcetto grape to fifteenth-century Dogliani, although according to legend an edict from the Marchese di Clavesana in 1303 ordered that only Dolcetto be planted in his territories under penalty of death. Understandably, the Doglianese believe their Dolcetto to be the truest representation of the grape and continue the revival effort underway since the 1980s as an area producing some of the finest Dolcetto.
Unlike the other two grapes that make up the great triumvirate of Piemontese red wine grapes—Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo–Dolcetto’s aromas tend toward black fruits: black cherries, black plum, black raspberries, and is reflected in its dark purple color. Notes of licorice and spice are not uncommon, and while complexity and fruit-fowardness in the wine can differ depending on producer and terroir, Dolcetto is best beloved for being food friendly and early drinking. Rather than overwhelming sweet fruit that fizzles with no finish, Dolcetto lingers on the palate with a pleasant hint of violets and anise.
Favored by Piemontese winemakers to drink with everyday meals, Dolcetto is a versatile wine that can be easily enjoyed with almost any food, but the cuisine of Piemonte makes for a particular piquant pairing. From hearty winter fare of bean casserole with mixed sausages to casual pizzas or pasta with a robust spicy tomato sauce, we recommend Dolcetto with almost anything. For those who prefer red wine year round, Dolcetto’s medium body and spicy dark fruits are perfect for summer drinking.
Because of its low acid and medium tannins, Dolcetto is best enjoyed young. The 2011 vintage is widely available and has been lauded by wine professionals as an excellent year in Piedmont. Often crafted by makers of Barolo, Dolcetto offers a no-wait, low-cost introduction into a producer’s style. IWM is particularly enamored of this under $28 cru Dolcetto di Dogliani from Chionetti–unlike other makers of the wine who supplement their Nebbiolo winemaking with this grape, Quinto Chionetti is devoted to Dolcetto, crafting serious, artisanal expressions. Of course, we can’t overlook these two bottlings from Bruno Giacosa–both his négociant house Casa Vinacola and his own estate makes Dolcettos very much worth drinking!
To learn more about the indigenous grapes of Italy, join us for our special tasting on Saturday, April 25, 2014 at our location in Union Square, New York City!« go back — keep looking »