Downing Dolcetto d'Alba 

A lightly sweet Italian spring treat

Dolcetto ("little sweet one" in Italian) is an early ripening grape with light acidity (thus the name) and firm tannins that have to be managed with short fermentation (the less skin-contact time, the less the tannin is extracted). In the Piemonte region of Alba, it provides a rather approachable alternative to that area's more prominent varieties, barbera and the nebbiolo of Barolo fame. This fruit-forward, easy-drinking red has much to recommend it and makes for a great seasonal transition wine. Here are the panel's top picks:

2009 Destefanis Dolcetto d'Alba, Bricco Galluccio, $14.99

A charmingly elegant wine, the aromas are filled with floral raspberry and blueberry, along with touches of chocolate and leather. The fruit on the palate is silky and seamless with a nice core of ripe red berry balanced by just-tart bing cherry. The lightest hint of smooth tannins adds texture to the persistent finish. Destefanis makes for a lovely spring sipper.

2008 Luigi Voghera Dolcetto d'Alba, $17.99

Heady cherry liqueur, fennel, cardamon and sage on the nose hint at the complexly robust flavors to follow. Definitely on the bolder side of the flavor spectrum with fruit-forward strawberry and dark cherry flavors, this is a well-structured wine with surprising acidity and nuances of mocha and licorice. The velvety finish lingers nicely.

2009 Renato Ratti Dolcetto d'Alba, Colombe, $13.99

This wine opens with reserved but exotic aromatics that include plum, vanilla, mint, fresh tarragon and earth. Dark fruit flavors of raspberry and plum are laced with mocha and spice, and backed by bright, food-friendly acidity. Soft tannins come through on the round and creamy finish. It strikes a nice middle ground between the elegant Destefanis and the bolder Voghera.

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