Rocche Costamagna Dolcetto d’Alba: In the Italian Tradition

roccheTradition is important. It means commitment, stability and pride.

And longevity is as important in the wine business as in any other: if a winery is still in business after a century or more, it says that they must be doing something right.

The folks at Rocche Costamagna are doing many things right. This venerable winery has been making wine in Italy’s Piedmont hills since 1841, continuously managed by descendants of founder Luigi Costamagna.

The Piedmont region sits at the base of the mountains in Northwest Italy and is best known for its big reds, Barolo and Barbaresco. They’re made from the Nebbiolo grape, which produces big, bold, tannic wines that’ll age for years and years.

The Alba region, nestled in the center of Piedmont, also produces a grape called Dolcetto, which makes a dry red wine that’s lighter-bodied and lower in tannin than its big cousin. At first I was puzzled by the name of this grape: even with my very elementary understanding of Italian, I know that “Dolce” means sweet. “Dolcetto” literally translated means “little sweet one.” But Alfred, my Italian wine broker, set me straight. “Don’t be literal,” he said. Think of this word as meaning “little young one,” because the Dolcetto grapes are the first picked at harvest time. Oh, now I get it…

So back to Rocche Costamagna Dolcetto d’Alba Murrae 2008. How does this thing smell and taste?

Let me say that I’ve tasted many Italian reds. They are first and foremost “food wines”, which means they’re the most unpleasant wine on the table if you’re just sipping then solo, but hands-down the best once you taste them with food. Red sauce especially makes these wines come alive and dance in your mouth.

So I was expecting a stinky nose (that doesn’t sound like a technical term, but it fits: many European reds have aromas that suggest stinky “barnyard,” another technical term). What I got was essence of ripe dark fruit.

The palate was softer and lusher than I expected from an Italian red. I tasted dark cherries with a hint of spice and forest floor, with an almost velvety mouthfeel. What I didn’t get was oak flavors or tannins.

Surprise! This Italian red is aged only in stainless steel. That must be why the fruit is so bright and the palate so clean.

I’d certainly drink this Dolcetto any day with a red sauce dish, but it would go just as well with some tangy cheeses or roasted chicken. Did I mention that the price is very reasonable? For around $18 this bottle is a great value. Now I’m anxious to see if the other Rocche Costamagna bottlings offer as much. Cheers!

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