Occasionally, a sneaky wine deal prompts us to purchase a bottle of wine we otherwise never would have considered. Such was the case with this week’s wine pick: Viola Dolcetto 2016. The fact that this wine even showed up in Rochester, MN is kind of an oddity. It’s from a very small, urban winery in Portland, OR, grown organically, and finished quickly in stainless steel tanks. It’s got an artsy, pencil sketch kind of label, which means nothing to me, but probably has some significance in its small, artisan community. It’s the kind of wine I might step off and try if I was, say in Portland, but not the kind of thing I’d expect to find widely distributed in the midwest…especially at its $25 price point.
Which is, perhaps, why I found it in the bargain bin for $8 a bottle. It’s also why I bought all 5 bottles they had. It was a curiosity, an oddity that I might not find again. I bought it with no expectations.
Dolcetto means little sweet one in Italian, which is a general misnomer for dolcetto wine which is dry, lightly acidic, and mildly tannic. I didn’t know these things going into this bottle of wine, so when I purchased the wine, my very limited understanding of Italian registered dolce as “sweet,” and thus expected a mildly sweet, Italian style red. As the wine was decanting, I looked up the winery and the tasting notes to get a better sense of what to expect, and found words like “leather” and “cocoa” and “almond paste.” It was also described as “full bodied.”
So imagine my surprise when, upon pouring out the wine, it initially looked rather thin. Some wines have a deep, rich, burgundy color that strikes you the instant they come out of the bottle. My initial impression of this wine was that it trended towards red, even brown. In fact, the color was so disarming that I wondered if the wine had gone bad? The cork smelled normal, no hints of vinegar, and in the decanter, it looked much better. But it was a strange pour!
15 minutes later, into the glasses it went without any hint of oddity. However, upon the first sip, the wine was undeniably sparkling! When looking in the glass, the tiniest of bubbles were noticeable in the wine, and there was a definite “spritz” on the tongue with each sip. It was not wholly unpleasant, but it also wasn’t expected. Furthermore, none of the adjectives used to describe the wine were accurate. It wasn’t full bodied, had none of the deep flavors of cocoa or leather, and was lightly fruity, but almost in a fruit punch sort of way instead of deep fruit flavors. It wasn’t that we didn’t like the wine, it was just that we couldn’t quite figure out what we were drinking as it didn’t match any of the brand or vintages distinguishing qualities.
What is actually likely to have happened, was that we have a flawed bottle of wine. In fact, we might have four more flawed bottles of wine in our cabinet right now. Red wines that are supposed to be still but end up with a slight sparkle are usually the product of a second fermentation in the bottle which creates the carbonation. Sparkling wine makers count on this second fermentation to create their bubbly, but still red wine should stop fermenting before being bottled. If it hasn’t, then some residual yeast will be transferred into the bottles, and can continue to feed on the sugars in the wine once it’s sealed.
The good news is, these bubbles won’t hurt you. They are, in essence, the same bubbles you drink in champagne or asti…just c02. However, when a wine is not supposed to undergo second fermentation and does, the overall quality and structure of the wine can be change by this chemical process. As such, it’s not surprising the wine didn’t look or taste like we expected it to look or taste because the second fermentation changed the amount of sugar in the wine and likely increased the alcohol content.
To read the reviews of Viola Dolcetto 2016, it’s clear that the entire vintage was not necessarily flawed. In fact, many wine reviewers have it ranked around 90 points, which is a relatively strong showing. The Viola Dolcetto 2018 is now available, and so it’s possible that you might 2016 vintage around on sale as we did. We will, no doubt, drink our four other bottles…flawed or otherwise, so I would recommend it. Though it’s difficult to tell you exactly what to expect. We thought we were pairing a deep, full bodied red with pot roast…it wasn’t exactly the pairing we imagined, but it wasn’t bad. Take that for what it’s worth.
Because I’m not really sure what to call what I was drinking!