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Wineaux: The little sweet one takes on the season’s cold

By From page A11 | December 29, 2011

I wish I could, for my last column of 2011, offer my lovely readers a gem of an insight. Philosophical, moral, spiritual, political, oenological, all-of-the-above — any deep, moving, enlightening profundity would suffice.

But I have a cold.

More accurately, a cold has me. We refer to it fondly in our household as The Cold From Hell because 1) it has both of us in its clutches, and 2) it refuses at great length to let either of us go. Symptoms vary day to day, hour to hour, but throat-on-fire, exploding head and oozing sinuses dominate. At night nothing quells the cough.

Our usual reliable remedy, an herbal concoction called Get Well Soon, has inexplicably and quite spectacularly failed us. Friends, family and random folk who obey our hoarse “Don’t come any closer” command have offered us their own favorite cures for the (un)common cold.

We’ve tried vinegar chasers, goldenseal gargles, elderberry syrup swills, neti pot ablutions, zinc throat lozenges, camphor-eucalyptus vapors, hot soup, acupressure points, bed rest and mega-doses of vitamin C. We even downed a couple shots of Joe Real’s ginger-lemon-grass wine (just as ineffective as NyQuil with none of the nasty side effects).

To no avail.

(Actually, friends, we’re very grateful for the suggestions and quite sure that each of them is helping a little. In the aggregate, they — along with the proverbial seven to 10 days — have managed to bring us both within sight of the distant shore of Wellness. You know, that place where everyone is jogging and biking and and singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” At least I think that’s what they’re singing — my ears are too stuffed to be sure.)

I’ve thought several times during this ordeal about the apocryphal St. Benedict story that I’ve no doubt narrated in a previous column or two (though my brain’s too fogged up to remember): An acolyte approaches the holy man one day and asks how he manages to live so long and so healthfully. “I drink a bottle of wine every day,” he says, “except when I’m sick.

“Then I drink two.”

On the worst day (well, I’m hoping it was the worst) of this malady, I said to myself, two bottles of wine would at least put me out of my misery. Possibly permanently. But, truth to tell, I couldn’t even take the first sip.

That’s when I realized this virus was an adversary of Professor Moriarty dimensions. I — a famous wine columnist — uninterested in a glass of good red at dinner time? Unthinkable.

Gradually, we began again to enjoy (or what passes for enjoyment in our snotty state) small glasses of our everyday favorites, the litany of which you probably already know. Local wines, organic grapes, living food that’s surely making us better by the minute.

Then one day, Day 7 perhaps, I want pasta with spicy red sauce (actively want as opposed to “I guess I could eat that”) and a good Italian red to go with it.

Which is a roundabout way of getting to my current wine pet — the charming Dolcetto. Dolcetto, besides being the wine itself, is a humble plump black grape that grows in the Piedmont area of Italy in the shadow of its nobler neighbors Nebbiolo and Barbera.

Early-ripening, it produces wine low in acid, high in tannins, light, earthy and dry — in spite of its name, which means “little sweet one.” Usually un-oaked and meant to be drunk young, it tastes of bright berry with a characteristic slightly bitter finish.

I’ve ordered several different ones at San Francisco restaurants where I know the wine list has been carefully crafted. It’s often among the least expensive choices (which means, in San Francisco, about $35) but so far I’ve sighed contentedly over each, like the Pecchenino ’09 San Liugi Dolcetto di Dogliani that our server at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (1570 Stockton St.) urged on us because she had visited the vineyards and loved this wine herself.

I honestly don’t remember much about my trip to Italy in 1968, but one sip of Dolcetto and I’m back there, eating in a local trattoria, feeling that this friendly, easy-going country must be Home. You have to excuse the youthful romanticism and remember that the U.S. was, at the time, deeply entrenched in the Vietnam war and Italy a leftist paradise in comparison — Berlusconi and cronies not yet even a dot on the horizon.

Besides, the Italians pronounce “Leonardi” with four syllables, a rolling “r” and a welcoming smile.

Dolcetto isn’t hard to find. Try G Street. The Co-op carries the Stefano Farina Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba for $14, and Valley Wine Company has the Rocche Costamagna Dolcetto d’Alba Murrae for $13. VWC can even offer you a California (and therefore bigger and fruitier) version — the NBV (that would be Naughty Boy Vineyards) ’07 Dolcetto from Mendocino ($16).

I haven’t (yet) tasted these three, but I love the truffly 2009 Deforville Dolcetto d’Alba. A Rosenthal import (and thus reliably sourced from a small producer who grows grapes organically), this wine is made by the Deforville family, Piedmont growers since 1860. Perfect with my pasta, though, I admit, it didn’t do much for my cold. And my cold didn’t do much for it.

So please don’t wait until you have a cold to try it. Next time you’re at Monticello (630 G St.), order a bottle with a light entrée or to accompany some appetizers or just to toast the New Year.

In any case, gentle Readers, Happy New Year!

I’m going back to bed.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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