Order, precision and cleanliness are the hallmarks of Claudia Revelli's management of the Eraldo Revelli winery nestled in the hills above Dogliani, and Claudia herself is sharp as a tack, a winemaker who leaves as little to chance as possible. She is also a very hospitable and kind-hearted person who realized that we were headed for trouble when she woke up to a blizzard on the morning of our visit and to save us from certain disaster on the steep hillside entrance to her winery, she generously came out to pick us up from nearby Belvedere Langhe.
Every time we drive north to Piemonte we learn something new. This time we found out that if you’re headed for the Alta Langa in December and it’s already cold and raining on the Ligurian coastline, expect it to be snowing hard on the route into Dogliani. Which is exactly what happened to us with near white-out conditions and even the road signs covered up by thickly falling snow.
Passing Murazzano at 2,500 feet before the snow ploughs and salting trucks had done their job, we were sliding all over the road navigating past cars marooned in snow drifts and ditches. There’s a reason why snow tires or chains are obligatory in the winter months in places like the Alta Langa, a lesson duly learned.
Once safely at Claudia’s winery we were able to better appreciate the beauty of the winter season in this part of the province of Cuneo but such is the constantly changing topography here that only four miles away in Dogliani there was no sign of snow when we arrived later for lunch.
There are certain advantages however to the Revelli winery operations being located up in the hills at 1,500 feet; Claudia’s preference is to avoid temperature control during or after fermentation and in this respect the elevation helps. Simply leaving the winery door ajar allows the early onset of colder weather to act as a natural clarification agent for the wine by causing the dying yeast deposits to adhere to the side of the stainless steel containers or sink to the bottom.
With annual production of about 35,000 bottles, Revelli is still today a family winery as it approaches its 100th anniversary. Claudia represents the third generation in charge of day-to-day management, taking over from her father, Eraldo, whose name is on the label.
As stewards of the land first and foremost, they’ve always farmed organically and their 18 acres of vines blanket the slopes around the farmhouse and winery. The soil here is characterized by marl, a mixture of clay and limestone that is typical of Piemonte, as well as tufa which is a soft, porous sedimentary rock also described as a type of limestone.
Despite her youth Claudia already has 22 vintages under her belt and has implemented many long term improvements to the winery including replanting some vineyards and renovating the cellar and equipment. Her winemaking philosophy includes working the vineyards by hand, keeping yields low and using an electric basket press at harvest time to treat the grapes gently.
Softer extraction is particularly important for the Dolcetto grape which is often characterized by low acidity and high tannins so the last thing you need is to add more tannin from the grape seeds. Claudia then allows the gently pressed juice to ferment spontaneously.
Dolcetto wines in Piemonte can be very confusing for the average consumer, including ourselves until quite recently, because there are as many as 12 different Dolcetto DOC or DOCG zones in very different geographical areas. Wines from this grape all share certain sensory characteristics but can differ quite considerably with regard to their level of tannin.
Given that most wines in the world are drunk within a year of release, many young Dolcetto wines are simply too tannic to be immediately enjoyable by people used to softer styles.
In our experience grapes from the higher altitude sites in Dogliani in the hands of the right winemaker tend to produce fresher and more perfumed wines with less forthright tannins than the other Dolcetto areas in Piemonte. Something to take note of if you're new to Dolcetto.
All the best vineyard sites around Dogliani remain planted to Dolcetto, protected from the ever encroaching Nebbiolo as much by the elevations here, which favor an earlier ripening grape such as Dolcetto, as by the rules of the Dogliani DOC zone.
Long may that continue because when you drive through nearby Barolo, the landscape has been denuded of every type of vegetation except Nebbiolo vines.
Though I mostly find vineyards pleasing on the eye, when every hillside has been stripped of trees in pursuit of Nebbiolo profits the lack of biodiversity is no longer particularly attractive or even healthy. In stark contrast the Dogliani area retains a rich mix of agricultural products with a long tradition for example of cultivating delicious hazelnuts, which Claudia also produces; in addition the hills around our snowy nightmare at Murazzano are famous for an ancient DOP cheese from local sheep’s milk, often made with the addition of up to 40% cow’s milk
Claudia's responses to our two fun questions about the other wines she enjoys and her favorite dish were as follows:
Wine: German Riesling
Dish: fritto misto, a classic Piemontese plate of fried meat and vegetables where the meat is largely composed of many of the internal organs of the animal. Not a dish for the timid and probably something that appeals mostly to native Piemontesi.
The overriding impression of the following wines was how easy they are to drink. They are all very young wines made from a grape that can often be unpleasantly tannic in youth yet all of the wines are extremely well-balanced and approachable. Something of a revelation for me in fact.
Rossèt 2021 - Langhe Rosato DOC (12.5% alcohol)
(100% Dolcetto from 20 year old vines, made with a few hours only of maceration)
This is not one of those bland and easily forgettable summer rosato wines but rather a more muscular type of rosato with good fruit and a pleasant bitterness on the finish that makes it perfectly suited to food. A very nice pizza wine in fact.
La Basarisca 2021 - Langhe Barbera DOC (14.5% alcohol)
(90% Barbera, 10% Dolcetto from 15 year old vines, aged in stainless steel and large oak barrels)
The addition of a small amount of Dolcetto has softened the acidity of the Barbera and made this a very smooth immediately approachable wine. It's flavorful and very fresh and very easy to drink even without food, which is not often said about Barbera. A crowd pleaser for sure.
Otto Filari 2021 - Dogliani DOCG (12.5% alcohol)
(100% Dolcetto from 10 year old vines, aged in steel vats until bottling in late spring)
Ruby red in the glass, the nose is full of blackberries and cherries. Quite soft tannins for such a young dolcetto there's good fruit on the palate and a streak of acidity here that needs food to be at its best, but that's the proper role of Italian wine, to accompany food. A very good value everyday wine at 9 euros.
Autin Lungh 2021 - Dogliani DOCG (13.5% alcohol)
(100% Dolcetto from 20 year old vines, aged in stainless steel and bottled in the summer)
Again, surprisingly soft tannins for a one year old Dolcetto but there's good acidity here so it's still very much a food wine. A very full fruity nose of dark berries with a hint of spices which is confirmed on the palate. At only 2-3 euros more than the previous wine this delivers even better value.
San Matteo 2020 - Dogliani Superiore DOCG (14% alcohol)
(100% Dolcetto from 35 year old vines in the cru vineyard of the same name, aged first in steel vats then large oak barrels)
Immediately appealing on the nose with notes of marinated, slightly sweet cherries, this wine is full, rich and very juicy with expressive fruit and well-integrated tannins. Very well balanced with unobtrusive acidity and a long finish, it shows very well for a wine that's only two years old. 16 euros.