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Vallona Ammestesso Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto

Getting to grips with Pignoletto. Part 1.

Welcome to Emilia-Romagna, the home of Pignoletto. Not yet well known yet, it’s undoubtedly up-and-coming. It’s time to find out why.

Part 1 of this article is about Pignoletto and where the best wines are from; the Colli Bolognesi area of Emilia-Romagna.

Let’s start with Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna is a vast region comprising nine distinctive provinces brought together after Italian Unification. It stretches nearly all the way across north-central Italy.  To the north, across the River Po, lies the Veneto and Lombardy. Tuscany is to the south, over the Apennine mountains. Hence half of Emilia-Romagna consists of a flat plain, one of the most extensive in Italy. Fertility makes it ideal for all forms of agriculture; this is the bread-basket of Italy. No wonder then that food production and the local cuisine is so spectacular, it offers many a gastronomic delight.

Famous mouthwatering staples include Prosciutto di ParmaBalsamic Vinegar from Modena, Parmesan cheese, Mortadella di Bologna and fresh pasta in almost infinite variety.

PIgnoletto DOC and DOCG

Map of Emilia-Romagna showing DOC Pignoletto and DOCG Pignoletto Colli Bolognesi

The cities of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio, Bologna, Faenza, and Rimini follow the Roman road called the Via Aemilia. Like pearls on a string, the distance between them is how far a Roman Legion could march in a day. Rightly, its referred to these days as Il Viaggio Nel Buon Gusto. The trip of good taste. Those visiting this region can download an excellent wine and food App here.

As an aside, the Via Aemilia is also the road of speed and design. Ferrari, Maserati, De Tomaso, Pagani, Lamborghini and Ducati are all from here.

And wine?

Emilia-Romagna has also been making wine since Etruscan times. Viticulturally, this region forms a bridge between the Venetian north and the Tuscan south. It’s perhaps best known for sparkling wine like Lambrusco. Nonetheless, there are many other indigenous and international grape varieties along with different vinous traditions. These have created a patchwork of separate but often overlapping territories and wine styles.

Wine production remains enormous, with a vast range of wines of every colour, style and price. Until relatively recently, production concentrated on quantity from the flat land rather than quality from the hillsides. But that’s no longer the case.

No longer cheap and cheerful

Emilia-Romagna’s wine image is perhaps still cheap and cheerful. However, there’s now plenty of winegrowers making some of the best wines in Italy. A recent visit to the Enologica 2017 wine show in Bologna, with time also spent in the nearby Colli Bolognesi, proved that. There are outstanding examples of artisanal wines made. These range from Emilian Lambrusco to Romagnan Sangiovese and with many red, white and fizzy points in between. Of all of these, Pignoletto is undoubtedly the rising star in the Emilian sky.

Introducing Pignoletto

 

"Colli

Pignoletto is a white grape variety with many synonyms. Locally, it’s called Grechetto Gentile, or sometimes Alionzina or Rébola. Its origins remain obscure though they are likely ancient. Perhaps, as the name Grechetto suggests, its roots are Greek. Further south in Umbria it’s Grechetto di Todi, often included in the Orvieto blend. There’s also some in the Lazio and Marche regions too. However, Emilia grows most of it and so is the homeland.

Confusingly, this grape name sounds similar to Pignolo, Pignola, and Pignatello. It’s also sometimes mistaken for Grechetto di Orvieto. Well, Pignoletto isn’t related to any of those. In past times, any grape bunch that was compact and pine-cone in shape was called Pigna.

This grape has a thick tannic skin and high acidity, which makes it highly versatile. At high yields on flat land, it is primarily crisp and neutral, even tart. However, farmed at lower yields on the best hill sites it becomes a delicious experience. Aromas and flavours of white flowers, limes, green apples, pears and aniseed come wrapped with texture, complexity and persistence. Naturally, it makes the perfect foil for much of Emilia-Romagna’s superb cuisine. In short, it has all the potential to make excellent wines in various styles and is food-friendly too.

Now the potential of Pignoletto is being realised at long last. In the recent past, Pignoletto the grape made Pignaletto the white wine. But even that’s changed.

Now Pignoletto is a region, no longer a grape variety

In 2014, Pignoletto the grape became Pignoletto the place instead.

Pignoletto Start

Pignoletto Start

Producers saw the need to protect the name Pignoletto and also create a more specific identity for the wines. Something that can’t be copied by growers anywhere else.

For example, any wine labelled Champagne must come from the appellation in France, and any other use is illegal. More recently, Prosecco has become enormously popular. Hence, the Prosecco name has become used by producers as far-flung as Australia, so compromising its Veneto origins. In response, the grape variety used for Prosecco is now called Glera and Prosecco is now a protected place name. Producers outside Prosecco shouldn’t use it, at least if they want to sell the wine in the European Union. However, it’s happened a bit late, that genie is already out of the bottle.

To avoid a similar fate with Pignoletto, in 2014 the DOC and DOCG rules were revised significantly. They legally established Pignoletto geographically. Consequently, the grape variety called Pignoletto is now officially known by its synonym, Grechetto Gentile. The wine made with it in this place is Pignoletto. Now there’s a place called Pignoletto in the Colli Bolognesi, complete with road signs!

Pignoletto End

Pignoletto End

DOC Pignoletto

The revised DOC Pignoletto stretches across the broad plain of the river Po. It extends into the foothills of the snow-capped Apennines. About 3,000 hectares produces some 10 million bottles per year. Compared to Prosecco, that’s a drop in the ocean. It also includes three sub-zones; DOC Modena, DOC Colli di Imola and DOC Reno.

There are only minute quantities of still (Fermo) and sweet wines made. Instead, 99% of all production is sparkling, usually Brut and created by the Charmat method. It comes either semi-sparkling as frizzante or as a full spumante. The usual European rules apply; frizzante is softer and semi-sparkling at 1 to 2.5 Bar pressure. Spumante is full fizz, from 3 to 6.5 Bar. Some are 100% Grechetto Gentile; others include up to 15% of other varieties, including Pinot Nero vinified white.

Meanwhile, 90% of all the DOC production comes from just four mega-sized wineries. High yields (100 to 170 hl/ha) produce neutral base wines of high acidity. That’s not great for still wine, but it’s an ideal base for fizz. Much of this wine is drunk locally, quaffed in the bars of Bologna and Modena. However, UK supermarkets have been quick to offer it as a good value alternative to the ubiquitous Prosecco.

DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto

Vallona Ammestesso Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto

Vallona Ammestesso vineyard, Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto

However, the real excitement surrounding this grape lies within the DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto. The DOCG covers a small exclusive enclave found on the rolling hills to the south-west of Bologna. The hillsides and valleys here have many different aspects, microclimates and soils. Altitudes range from 150 to 600 metres. All these factors allow for the expression of individuality and terroir.

This DOCG is small, some 640 hectares, with production entirely in the hands of 40 artisanal wineries, mostly family owned. Some are tiny, making as little as 10,000 bottles per year, while the biggest is around 180,000 bottles per year. Natural winegrowing practices are also catching on. In fact, the DOCG intends to become completely organic.

It also has far stricter regulations than the companion DOC. For example, yields are half of those in the DOC, typically 50 to 70 hl/ha for fizz. Also, all the wine bottling must be within its boundaries.

Current production is only about 1 million bottles per year. However, such is the quality and increasing demand that over the next three years the DOCG will expand by 40%. This new area, an additional 400 hectares, includes some new vineyards. However, growth will mostly come from replacing other grape varieties in existing vineyards with Grechetto Gentile.

A more extensive range of styles in DOCG

75% of DOCG production is frizzante and spumante, and there is finer Método Classico as well as Charmat. Most fizz is Brut in style, but there are non-dosage and off-dry examples as well. Again, it can include other varieties up to 15%.

However, 25% of DOCG Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto production is Fermo, i.e. a dry still white wine. The Classico Superiore category covers the traditional heartland for this style. It has even lower yields (typically 25-40 hl/ha), higher density planting and must mature until the October following the harvest. These wines must also have a minimum 95% Pignoletto content. The other 5% is to accommodate the oldest vineyards here. Those sometimes have a small proportion of different grape varieties intermingled with Grechetto Gentile. All this extra attention and the terroir combine to produce Pignoletto at its most glorious.

At present, the still wines are harder to find in the UK given the small production. However, they’re easy enough to buy directly from the producer or in Bologna.  As producers expand this category and increasingly look to international markets, we’ll see more of them in future. The still wine will become the flagship of Pignoletto.

Don’t forget the Colli Bolognesi DOC.

"Tenute

The Colli Bolognesi doesn’t just grow Grechetto Gentile and make Pignoletto. As well as DOC and DOCG Pignoletto, the area also has the overlapping Colli Bolognesi DOC. This designation allows a long list of other red, white and sparkling wines.

These include blended and varietal Rosso’s. Made with Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, they include Riserva wines with three years maturation.  Meanwhile, Bianco contains blends and varietal wines from Chardonnay, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. Other sparkling wines beside Pignoletto come from Barbera, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

All these wines can be excellent, great value and are of course terrific with Bolognesi cuisine. For me, the red Barbera Riserva is particularly notable. However, the DOC Colli Bolognesi needs a separate article of its own to do it justice.

Concluding thoughts

The future of Pignoletto looks to be bright indeed and its growing fast. I’m indebted to the members of the Consorzio Vini Colli Bolognesi and the Consorzio Pignoletto Emilia-Romagna. A special mention goes out to Dottore Francesco Cavazza Isolani, who is President of both organisations.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to returning and learning more, especially at Enologica 2018! Pignoletto is also on tour in Europe during 2018, including London, Düsseldorf and Monaco, so try the wines if you can.

In Part 2,  the focus will be on Pignoletto producers and wine examples to try, with food matching suggestions.

Why not get Pignoletto on your radar?

Location

Consorzio Vini Colli Bolognesi
Via Abbazia 30/c,
Monteveglio
40053 Valsamoggia,
Bologna, Italy

Consorzio Pignoletto Emilia-Romagna
Via Masini,
11 – Villa Garagnani
40069 Zola Predosa,
Bologna, Italy

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