Pignoletto DOC Takes the Stage

Posted December 4, 2014
Quick quiz. Pignoletto is:
A. An opera by Giuseppe Verdi
B. A fairy-tale puppet that magically becomes a little boy
C. A sketch from The Muppet Show
D. An Italian grape variety

The correct answer is none of the above.

Until very recently, Pignoletto was the name of a white grape variety associated with Emilia Romagna in central Italy. Though it is not a household name, Pignoletto is well respected in its native region. Several years ago, DNA analysis showed Pignoletto to be genetically identical to Grechetto, a better known variety found mostly in Umbria. (To be more precise, Pignoletto is the same as Grechetto di Todi, aka Grechetto Gentile.)

Pignoletto’s main claim to fame, since 2010, has been the Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto DOCG, a denomination located just west of Bologna that annually produces about 5,000 cases of white wine containing a minimum of 95 percent Pignoletto. Besides that DOCG, five DOCs in Emilia Romagna (Colli Bolognesi, Colli d’Imola, Colli di Rimini, Modena, and Reno) and two IGPs (Emilia and Rubicone) have been making varietal Pignoletto wines.

Pignoletto labelThat is all about to change, however.

Producers in Emilia Romagna have decided that “Pignoletto” works better as the name of a Grechetto-based wine from a historic area than as a synonym of Grechetto that just anyone can use. This is analogous (on a much smaller scale) to the situation producers of Prosecco dealt with a few years ago, when Prosecco was a grape name that anyone could use—and did, in other parts of the world. In the latter case, they changed the name of the Prosecco grape to Glera and created a new Prosecco DOC, thereby restricting the use of the word Prosecco to the boundaries of that denomination. In Emilia Romagna, the plan is to stop calling this grape Pignoletto, referring to it instead by the more recognizable name Grechetto.

At the same time, the use of the name Pignoletto will be limited to its historical home by establishing a new denomination, the Pignoletto DOC. (Pignoletto is apparently the name of a tiny frazione in the commune of Monteveglio in Bologna province, within the new zone, although it is too small to appear on Google Maps.) Approval has already been granted for this in Rome, and the Ministry of Agriculture has issued a decree of transitory protection. Thus, it is now illegal for anyone outside the boundaries of the denomination to use the name Pignoletto on a wine label.

According to producer Anselmo Chiarli of Chiarli 1860 and Cleto Chiarli (importer for Lambrusco: Dalla Terra) in Modena, this is simply a matter of bringing some rationality to the naming of the wine, which has suffered from a lack of identity among consumers. Consolidating all the Grechetto-based wines of the region into a single DOC with one set of rules, he says, brings more transparency and truthfulness to the wine. Chiarli sees a positive future for Pignoletto once the more logical labeling removes a lot of consumer confusion.

Pignoletto DOPsBeginning with the 2014 harvest, the only wines labeled as Pignoletto should be from either the renamed and enlarged Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG or the Pignoletto DOC. (The former Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto DOCG has been resized to include all the area of the new DOC; the original boundaries will continue to define a Classico subzone.) The Pignoletto DOC will incorporate the varietal Grechetto wines of the other Emilia Romagna denominations—formerly labeled as either Pignoletto or sometimes Rébola. Pignoletto DOC wines can be still, sparkling, late harvest, or passito, all with a minimum of 85 percent Grechetto. There are three subzones, corresponding to three of the existing denominations: Colli d’Imola, Modena, and Reno. No particular minimum aging is required for any of the styles.

Chiarli estimates that there is about 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of Pignoletto vineyards currently in the denomination, with more being planted, and that the current production for the new DOC may be up to 90,000 hectoliters (1,000,000 cases).

Because it can be made into a variety of styles, Pignoletto’s fingerprint is a bit blurry. As with many a grape variety, yield is everything; if kept low, the wines can show wonderful white floral aromas, ripe apple-y fruit, and crisp acidity. This acidity also makes it perfect for sparkling wines and, when left on the vine, impressive as a dessert wine.

6 Responses to “Pignoletto DOC Takes the Stage”

  1. Reply Marcello

    Hmm, well this all sounds a little weird, especially when you consider the fact that Pignoletto is the same variety as Grechetto di Todi and Ribolla Riminese. This Grechetto (g5 clone) is only really planted around the town of Todi in Umbria, while the more widespread Grechetto (g109 clone associated with Orvieto for example) is completely unrelated. They share a name and nothing else. It seems more logical for Todi growers to change the name of their variety of Grechetto to Pignoletto, since it seems obvious that it's presence is an anomaly in Umbria. It just seems even more confusing. I guess the fact that no-one really knows which area staked the first claim to the variety hinders the use of the correct nomenclature, but still, in this case it seems strange that the gorwers of Pignoletto would chose to call their grape variety Grechetto..

    • Reply Jack Brostrom

      There is plenty of confusion to go around, to be sure, but it's not hard to understand why the grape's growers in Emilia Romagna decided to use the Grechetto name: By doing so and at the same time protecting Pignoletto as a denomination place-name, they have prevented anyone outside their area from calling a wine Pignoletto. If they had supported changing the official grape name to Pignoletto, then all growers of Grechetto Gentile (aka Grechetto di Todi) anywhere in Umbria or worldwide would have been able to label their wine as Pignoletto, effectively killing any brand identity that had been established for the Pignoletto of Emilia Romagna. Separating the identities of the two unrelated Grechettos is a good idea, but it's not high on anyone's priority list because there is no economic incentive.

  2. Reply Matt Stamp MS

    Jack, thanks to you and Geralyn for keeping up to date!

  3. Reply Davide

    Interesting article and comments. I agree with Jack.
    I come from that area and I only recently following a wine course, I discovered the Grechetto grapes are the same.
    Are the 2 the 2 varieties 'completely unrelated' as Marcello stated ?

    • Reply Jack Brostrom

      In Native Wine Grapes of Italy, the best source available about such things, Ian D’Agata says that the two are indeed unrelated. If you want to nitpick, you could argue that an absolute like “completely” is going too far—they are both grapes, after all—but they are probably no more closely related than any two humans chosen at random.

    • Reply Marcello

      From what I've gathered, yeah they're unrelated. By how much, it's hard to say. Many varieties in Italy are related to each other but not necessarily directly (eg. father-daughter, siblings). Witness the Sangiovese family that includes varieties as far from each other as: Foglia Tonda, Frappato, Gaglioppo, Mantonicone, Morellino del Casentino, Morellino del Valdarno, Nerello Mascalese, Tuccanese di Turi, Susumaniello, and Vernaccia Nera del Valdarno. Or the Garganega family which includes: Albana, Catarratto, Empibotte, Greco Bianco del Pollino, Malvasia di Candia a Sapore Semplice, Marzemina bianca, Montonico bianco and Trebbiano Toscano.

      Either way, Grechetto G109 and Grechetto Gentile (G5) look completely different in the vineyard. Different bunch shape, different leaf shape, different ripening times and different juice chemistry/flavours. It's a wonder anyone could ever confuse them. That said, some people still think Sangiovese and Montepulciano are the same variety, and side by side you'd have to be blind to confuse them...(though a town in Tuscany called Montepulciano probably doesn't help the situation... 🙂

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