RICHARD ESLING: Could this be the new wave Italian wine for the UK?

Vineyards in Emilia Romagna
Vineyards in Emilia Romagna
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There is a relatively new wine in Italy that is starting to make a bit of a name for itself.

Actually, it is not a new wine, but a newly designated quality wine region or DOC, called Pignoletto. Could this be the new wave Italian wine for the UK? It starts and ends with the right letters, that is, the same as Prosecco and Pinot Grigio. Perhaps all it needs is some clever marketing?

Pignoletto as a wine has been around for a long time and is well known and well respected by the locals of the Emilia Romagna region in Central Italy, from whence it comes. It is made from the Grechetto Gentile grape variety, which was called Pignoletto, and originates from this part of Italy. But in order to protect the quality and authenticity of the wines made from it, particularly the most typical wines made in the Colli Bolognesi, the hills surrounding Bologna, a new DOC was created called Pignoletto, centred on a small commune of the village of Monteveglio. So now the DOC is called Pignoletto, made from the Grechetto Gentile grape. This necessary, but recent change is confusing to many of the traditional producers, who continue to refer to the grape variety as Pignoletto!

Old habits die hard.

Pignoletto wines are always white, but are made in several different styles. The most popular with the locals around Bologna, is the semi-sparkling or frizzante style. Generally, it is dry or just off-dry, and due to the lower pressure fizz, it can be bottled in ordinary wine bottles, rather than the normal sparkling wine bottle. The next style is Spumante, or fully sparkling, with higher pressure and more lively bubbles, which is made by the Charmat method, with the secondary fermentation, which produces the bubbles, taking place in a sealed tank – the same method as for making Prosecco.

The third style is a still wine, nearly always dry and with a higher alcohol content than the others, around 13 percent.

The DOC regulations governing the quality, production and origins of Pignoletto wines allow for some other grape varieties to be used in conjunction with the Grechetto. The most common of these is the international Chardonnay, with another being the local red grape variety, Barbera. This is used in the same way as Pinot Noir in champagne, the skins containing the colour being eliminated at a very early stage in the wine-making process, so that only the white juice remains.

However, all wines with the Pignoletto DOC must contain at least 85 percent Grechetto grapes, with many of the best being 100 percent.

Pignoletto sparkling wines are starting to be seen more widely in the UK, with stockists including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

While these are interesting wines as an introduction to the style, some of the highest quality and most characterful wines are made by producers who are members of the Conzorzio dei Vini di Colli Bolognesi – the wine producers of the Bolognese hills. During a recent visit I tasted some wines that are the ultimate expression of Pignoletto wines. The sparkling wines were fresh, clean, dry, with medium body, elegant fruit and crisp finish, and wines from producers such as Il Monticino, Manaresi and Podere Riosto are outstanding examples.

Other notable wines from the Pignoletto DOC were from the producers Orsi and Vallona. The Vallona Pignoletto Vivace 2016 is produced in a single fermentation, with the wine being filtered and bottled before the fermentation is complete, thus retaining a slight fizz, with a lighter alcohol content of 11.5 percent.

Very appealing and fruity, with balanced acidity.

Orsi, meanwhile, produces a frizzante with a secondary fermentation in the bottle, but without disgorging or filtration.

The result is a gently fizzy,cloudy wine, which is all natural. Very yeasty and appley on nose and palate.

So go out and experience a new taste in wine, although for the best, you may have to have a trip to Bologna – not a bad thing to have to do!

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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