Dogliani, just south of Monforte in Barolo, is a land where Dolcetto rules the hillsides. There's no sibling rivalry here with Nebbiolo and Barbera. This is where Dolcetto gets all the love. And in Dogliani it's Nicoletta Bocca's 1936-planted Dolcetto vines that offer the most mesmerizing and enchanting reflection of this appellation.
There are very few producers in Barolo that will devote prime hillside parcels to Dolcetto. But, in Dogliani only the best, steep, south-facing vineyards are planted to the variety. Bocca purchased the San Fereolo property in 1992 in the Valdibà subzone and converted to organic and biodymanic viticulture, now certified by Demeter. Bocca's oldest vines of her estate go into the flagship San Fereolo Dogliani bottling. She waits 8 years to release each vintage, with a split between large barrel elévage and then into bottle for extended aging.
There's no denying how important Dolcetto is from Dogliani's northern neighbors. Even there it's more than a simple "daily drinker", with complex blue and black fruits, bitter chocolate, licorice, smoke, and black olive notes. But, San Fereolo's Dogliani from 81-year-old vines is entirely another beast. There's a weight and texture that points to a very different class, with an underlying stream of rocky minerality and agile frame that reminds us we're in another home.
For me, the introduction to Bocca's top wine really turned my preconceived notions of Dolcetto upside down. Even with exposure to the best bottlings from Barolo the Dogliani holds a grace and sense of quiet conviction that is undeniably great. This is where world class Dolcetto takes the leading role of terroir and runs with it.
The two vintages offered today show very different sides of Dogliani.
The cooler 2008, like throughout Barolo and Barbaresco, gave us incredibly aromatic, bright, and lifted wines - a vintage where the rarer elegant and suave side of Dolcetto is front and center. One of the latest harvest dates on record due to the cooler season. Longer than usual hang time let intricate flavors develop slowly.
2009, conversely, was a warm vintage that gave us plush, forward, and very open-knit wines, full of dark, powerful fruit held in check with underlying structure. Whereas Nebbiolo tends to do best in more moderate growing seasons, Dolcetto is always eagerly awaiting those of serious warmth. It's in these vintages that Dolcetto excels the very most.
2008 San Fereolo Dogliani Dolcetto
$31 per bottle.
2009 San Fereolo Dogliani Dolcetto
$33 per bottle.
The wines of G.D. Vajra stole my attention when I was living in Burgundy, but a subsequent visit in Italy put the whole picture in to context: These are Piedmont elite at pricing that speaks to everyone. From the Dolcetto through single vineyard Barolo this family estate is the first place to turn for the entire spectrum of what Piedmont is all about.
Aldo and Milena Vaira bottled their first vintage in 1978 from vineyards planted by Aldo's father in 1948. Vajra's vineyards are set at the highest elevation in the commune of Barolo. Aldo from the start was heavily influenced by the traditional approach of his neighbors down the hill, Bartolo Mascarello and Beppe Rinaldi.
The Vajra wines stand at a perfect intersection between two styles. Aldo has noted descriptions of the estate as "The most modern of the traditionalists and the most traditional of the modernists". Though traditional fermentation and aging is the common approach, the accessibility and silken texture of the wines calls to mind modern sensibilities.
2015 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba
$20 per bottle.
Dolcetto is a love of the family and unlike most estates the grape is planted on south-facing vineyards giving it optimum sunshine for coaxing out the very most from this tannic variety. Blue fruits, juicy and robust, with a aromatics that fill up a room. At $20 certainly one of the great value wines in all of Piedmont.
2013 G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto d'Alba
$30 per bottle.
"All my life I wondered how to create a Dolcetto showing freshness and power that could age in time. A life long effort led us to Coste & Fossati, the quintessence of our finest vines." - Aldo Vaira
From vines planted in 1978 and 1985. Intense concentration, with deep purple hue. Lavender and violet notes are taken to the best extreme. Drinking great today, but will reward cellaring for a decade.
2010 G.D. Vajra Langhe Freisa "Kyè"
$44 per bottle.
A close relative of Nebbiolo, Freisa is a grape once held in the highest esteem in Piedmont. Today, most examples are fruity and simple. At Vajra, Freisa is love affair that receives their utmost attention. And their "Kyè" is the benchmark Freisa of Piedmont. Deep and powerful, but with grace and a lifted sense of minerality that only a prime hillside planting can provide. It has a menthol and tar quality reminiscent of Nebbiolo, but with a darker fruit profile.
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo "Albe"
$39 per bottle.
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo "Albe" 1.5L
$114 per bottle.
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo "Albe" 3.0L
$239 per bottle.
The best value in Barolo today. The "Albe" is all about finesse and aromatics. Sourced from three vineyards showcasing their influence of the higher altitude plantings. Traditional maceration of 25 to 40 days, and aged 30 months in 50-75 hectoliter Slavonian oak.
Antonio Galloni of Vinous has sung the praises of this bottling for years,
"Vajra crafts the Albe to be accessible young...The Albe is one of the very finest Barolos in its price range."
If you would like to learn more about G.D. Vajra I highly recommend listening to the always indispensable work of Levi Dalton of I'll Drink To That, and his interview of Aldo and Giuseppe Vaira.