Fri 8 Aug 2014
First, I apologize to the people at Dolce Wines, a sister winery to Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel and EnRoute, for holding on to these samples for so long before tasting and writing about them, but I wanted to see how a few years in the fridge would affect them. The examples in question are Dolce 2007, 06, 05 and 04, dessert wines in half-bottles, and what they reveal across four years is a remarkable and gratifying consistency in tone, structure, flavor profile and balance. Differences? Of course, and I will discuss those variations in more detail further in this post.
The partners in Far Niente conceived of the project — a small winery devoted to a single dessert wine — in 1985; the first vintage introduced commercially was 1989, released in 1992. The production of dessert wine depends on geographical and climatic conditions — foggy, with a subtle balance between warm and cool — suitable for the inoculation of the botrytis mold, the “noble rot,” that can attack grapes, suck out the moisture and reduce them to concentrated sugar bombs. This invasion occurs grape by grape, not cluster by cluster, so harvesting a vineyard affected by botrytis can take several weeks and many passes through the rows. Because of the vagaries of weather, botrytis doesn’t occur every year or it may happen in a scattered and spotty fashion, so those vintages do not result in wine. The practice is tedious, time-consuming and expensive, and great attention must be paid to detail in the vineyard and winery. The 20-acre Dolce vineyard is in Coombsville, east of Napa city, at the base of the Vaca Mountains, in an area where fog often lingers until midday, encouraging the growth of the homely but beneficial mold. The Dolce dessert wines evince a great deal of power, typically built on a base of super-ripe and seemingly roasted peaches and apricots and building other aspects of detail and dimension as the vintage dictates; their grace comes from what feels like fathomless acidity and limestone minerality that offers exquisite balance to the immense ripeness and richness. These are world-class dessert wines.
Dolce 2007, Napa Valley. This blend of 82 percent semillon grapes and 18 percent sauvignon blanc aged 31 months in all-new French oak barrels. The residual sugar is 12.5 percent. Color is medium gold with a faint green highlight; I could smell the roasted peaches and apricots when I poured the wine into the glass. What other elements? Creme brulee, hazelnuts and almond skin, hints of mango and papaya, notes of mandarin orange and pineapple. This is, in other words, a very sweet wine, in the mouth viscous and satiny, spiced and macerated, rich, honeyed and buttery, yet electrified by vibrant — I almost wrote “violent” — acidity, so the whole musky, dusky package resonates with liveliness and frank appeal. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2025 to 2027. Excellent. About $85 a half-bottle.
Dolce 2006, Napa Valley. For 2006, Dolce contains the most sauvignon blanc of this quartet, 20 percent against 80 percent semillon. It aged 31 months in all-new French oak barrels. Residual sugar is 13 percent, the highest of this group. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is pungently smoky, ripe with creamy honeyed peaches and apricots enlivened with cloves and sandalwood, hints of coconut and pain perdu. It’s smooth as silk on the palate, round, dense and viscous, with undertones of orange marmalade, preserved lemon, lime peel and cinnamon toast; clean acidity ramps up the vibrancy and resonance, creating a finish that’s almost dry and bursting with limestone minerality. Alcohol content is 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2026 to 2030. Excellent. About $85 a half-bottle.
The word for Dolce 2005, Napa Valley, is “otherworldly.” The blend is 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc; again the oak regimen is 31 months, all-new French oak barrels; the residual sugar is 12 percent. King Midas would envy this golden richness, but this example of the wine is not only rich and ripe but elegant, almost delicate; that’s a paradoxical quality, though, because this elegance and sense of delicacy encompass sumptuous notes of roasted peaches and apricots, caramelized mango, pineapple upsidedown cake, exotic spices, all wrapped in a creamy, honeyed texture that manages to be both sophisticated and feral. The lithe, supple finish, charged with vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, is the driest of this group. Alcohol content is 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional. About $85 a half-bottle.
It’s interesting that Dolce 2004, Napa Valley, embodies the highest alcohol level of this quartet — 14.1 percent — and, logically, the lowest residual sugar at 10.8 percent; a notion of sauvignon blanc that’s almost subliminal, at 1 percent; and the least time in the typical all-new French oak barrels, 28 months, still a considerable span, of course. The color is pure shimmering gold; aromas of peach tart and apple turnover, deeply caramelized citrus and stone fruit, feel elevating and balletic, yet this is the earthiest of these wines, the one most imbued with limestone and flint minerality, all a shade darker in smoke and the redolence of toasted Asian spices. Still, it’s rich and ripe — slightly over-ripe — and, as is essential, brightened by an arrow of rigorous acidity that aims straight for the dry, uplifting finish. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.