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.
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.
Beginning 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.