Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vajra's 2007 Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & Fossati

2007 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & FossatiWhen I first got into wine, and when I first found out about the reds from the Piedmont, I drank more barbera than I did dolcetto. And why wouldn't I? The neophyte follows the expert, and check out what the eminently reasonable Robinson and Johnson say in The World Atlas of Wine: "Barbera is now Piemonte's second most glamorous red grape... Piemonte's third red grape is Dolcetto." The sentiment is repeated more or less strongly in every wine book I've read. All such authors go on to praise dolcetto, but the hierarchy is clear, and as the usually-reasonable price points for the wines are usually not so different, why wouldn't have I opted for what should be the better wine?

The hierarchy, I found out, is meaningless to me, for I've experienced terrific wines made from both grapes. I value good barberas for their acidity and their peppery spice notes, and I value good dolcettos for their sweet fruit, their slightly bitter citric qualities, and the way they're apt to convey dusty earth notes. It's a matter of what I'm in the mood for and what I'm eating. And all things being equal, I find that dolcettos are more flexible at the table. The better examples hit all the marks: a pinch of earth, just enough tannic structure, lovely but soft acidity, refreshing bitterness, and plush yet firm fruit, the way a black plum or black cherry is plush yet firm. So I opt for Piedmont dolcetto a bit more frequently than I opt for Piedmont barbera. Sorry, Jancis!

Still, as much as I've grown to appreciate dolcettos from the Piedmont, I wasn't quite prepared for the 2007 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba Coste & Fossati. At $35 this is far more expensive than any dolcetto I've had but it's also hands down the best. As the name implies, the grapes come from two vineyards in Barolo proper. This, my friends, is respect, respect for a grape that doesn't have to be third-tier. The soil in both vineyards is Tortonian, and from what I've read it's thanks to these calcareous marls this wine is indeed open and aromatic (the harder sandstone soils in the eastern part of Barolo are less friendly to early wines).

The Vajra shows depth and beautiful structure. Gorgeous, dusty boysenberry aromas waft from the glass. As for the palate, when McDuff had Vajra's 2006 Lange Nebbiolo, he noted the wine's "firm grip and slightly chalky tannins wrapped around a core of bright red fruit." Dolcetto is not nebbiolo, and I think the Dolcetto d'Alba comes from different vineyards, but substitute blue fruit for red and this description nails this to a T.

Dolcetto's modest tannins help it play well with substantial fishes, and the multilayered, elegant Vajra was great with a slab of sable that I pan seared and topped with shallots sauteed in a balsamic reduction. The wine's acidity cut through the fish's oily texture and the tannins were firm yet delicate enough to aptly frame the fish's sweet, fleshy meat. Meanwhile, the barely-sweet fruit played well with the reduction, while the earthy notes parried nicely with the fish's saltwater notes. I'm pretty sure this would also play well with roasted pork, mushroom risotto, pasta with tomato sauce, toasted polenta...


David McDuff said...

"I'm pretty sure this would also play well with roasted pork, mushroom risotto, pasta with tomato sauce, toasted polenta..."

Yes, yes, yes and yes.... I love this wine too, Mike. Definitely at the top of my list when it comes to Dolcetto, which I too drink more often and find even more versatile than Barbera.

As to vineyard site, Coste e Fossati are actually two of the vineyards, along with La Volta, where the Nebbiolo is planted for Vajra's Barolo "Albe." Obviously, the two vines would occupy different parcels and positions on the hillside but Nebbiolo and Dolcetto do both favor the same soil types.

To quote another wine writer, Burton Anderson includes Dolcetto "Coste e Fossati" in his "Best Italian Wines" and mentions that it's one of the few Dolcetti that can reward more than a few years (he says up to 10, if I'm not mistaken) of bottle aging. I've set bottles down from several vintages to give it a whirl; based on my preliminary experiences, though, I tend to prefer the wine in its first couple of years when it's at its most aromatic and vibrant.

Wicker Parker said...

David, though I've very limited experience with somewhat-aged Dolcetto, I'm inclined to follow your lead and drink this Vajra young. It's totally balanced and very expressive now, so why wait?

I updated the post -- I blindly wrote that it was from 2008, when in fact I well knew it was from 2007. "Mistakes were made..."

Yep, the rest of the bottle worked well with a mushroom polenta! No mistake about that. The wine was not better than it was the first night, which again reinforces the notion to drink on the young side.

na cica de vino said...

i'm here in rome, and just found this bottle, the 2007 for 8 euros, which is nothing compared to 35 dollars, although i think they may have labled the price wrong. anyway i snagged two bottles, psyched to try this gem.

Hemulen said...

8 Euros! Ouch, I got this for £20 at Christmas last year, however it was worth every penny. Gorgeous wine.

Wicker Parker said...

Worth it? I'll say!