By Jamie Gabrini
Piedmont is one of the most revered regions in epicuria. Home to Barolo and Barbaresco, its the promised land of truffles, cheese, and stunning Nebbiolos. Most of the wines are priced to match, however, so its rare to experience one of those legendary Piedmontese wines without cashing in your 401(k). For that reason, I love exploring other indigenous grapes, most of which do not get their rightful publicity due to the overwhelming attention paid to Nebbiolo.
Dolcetto is native to Piedmont, and is grown in a variety of sub-appellations within the region. The winters of Piedmont are harsh, but hot summers and long, warm autumns enable the Dolcetto grape to fully ripen. The word itself means little sweet one. Dolcetto has often been compared to the Gamay grape of Beaujolais because of its reputed fruity quaffability, but Ive found Dolcettos can be a lot leaner due to the colder climate. The most obvious comparison to me is that, like Beaujolais wines, Dolcettos are often extremely simple and lack any sort of complexity; however, also like Beaujolais, if you find a good Dolcetto, it can have remarkable depth and texture that make you stop and ponder the deep mysteries of life.
Okay, I admit it, thats stretching it. But while sipping Aldo e Riccardo Seghesios 2003 Dolcetto dAlba last night, I couldnt help but wonder why Dolcetto isnt more valued here in the states. Admittedly, 2003 was a hot year, so the wine was far riper than others Ive had. Still, the acidity and tannins were certainly fully present, giving it great structure and a firm mouth-feel. Darkly ruby red in color, the swirling plum and dark berry aromas blend with and herbal spice. Medium in body, the palate is consistent with the nose: plum, blackberry, and black cherry and complimented by a wonderful little kick of pepper, cloves, and black olives. The wine was even better the next day, with a longer finish that was just begging to be served with a regional dish. And who, dear readers, am I to deny any wine its greatest wish?
I rummaged through my cabinet and found arborio rice and decided that a mushroom-based risotto would work wonderfully. I sauteed a few cloves of crushed garlic and minced shallots in olive oil over medium-low heat until they softened. Sliced porcini mushrooms were added next, sauteed until just tender. Next, I added the rice and stirred constantly until the oil was absorbed; then, as is the key to risotto, I added liquid in increments, alternating between vegetable stock, water, and white wine. Make sure to stir is the entire time this needs to be one watched pot that aint allowed to boil. While the risotto was simmering, I boiled some water and rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms until they were soft. I drained the liquid and added it to the risotto, and sprinkled in the minced, rehydrated mushrooms are the rice grew tender. All told, the risotto should take about thirty minutes or so to become tender. Like pasta, you want it slightly al dente, so dont cook it until its a mush. Add some salt and pepper to taste and grate a hearty dose of pecorino romano over it just before you serve it. Since the wine is only about $10 per bottle, this can be an ab-fab and cheap little soiree thats expandable depending on how many folks you want to invite.