“Oh, you have to try the tortellini,” my hairdresser chirped when I said I was traveling to Bologna.
Italians are famously regional with their food and drink, so even though we were in Rome — a mere 2-hour train ride away — he advised me on a few of the classic things to eat in the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region.
Sure, it’s possible to get a perfectly salty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or a lively, sparkling Lambrusco elsewhere, but there are some things that just taste better in their home region.
With a detailed list of what to eat and sip, I thought I was prepared. Once I arrived, though, I overheard talk of a new-to-me Italian sparkling wine made in the hills of Bologna. Its name? Pignoletto.
What Is Pignoletto?
First, let’s clarify that Pignoletto is a white grape variety that is traditionally grown in the hills of the Bolognese wine zone. The grape is also known as Grechetto or Grechetto Gentile and recent DNA analysis revealed it is related to Grechetto di Todi – a traditional grape from Umbria. The name comes from “pigna” (Italian for pine cone), which is in reference to the grapes that grow in small, tight clusters.
Only about 3% of the land under vine in Emilia-Romagna is planted to Pignoletto but, don’t let that small production fool you, it is beloved. This wine comes two appelations: eiither the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG, an appellation based on the Grechetto (Pignoletto) grape that surrounds the village of Monteveglio. Or the Pignoletto DOC, an appellation extending from Modena to Faenza that was introduced in 2014 in order to protect the Grechetto (Pignoletto) wines produced in this area.
But Is it Pignoletto? Or Grechetto?
To explain, the grape was historically called Pignoletto but was changed to Grechetto (or Grechetto Gentile) in 2014. Technically, the name Pignoletto is now used to refer to the area around the tiny village of the same namee, where the grape was historically grown. However, in the United States, you’ll still find many people refer to this as Pignoletto.
What Style Of Wine Is Pignoletto?
“Whether still or sparkling, Pignoletto is a light-bodied, super zesty, and highly drinkable wine with an aromatic nose reminiscent of white peaches, ginger, jasmine, and grapefruit,” sommelier Filippo Bartolotta explained. “On the palate is an explosion of citrus fruit combined with elderflower, basil, and a chamomile with an almond finish.”
The Styles Of Pignoletto Wine
As far as Italian wine types go, Pignoletto is lesser-known outside of Emilia-Romagna but it’s becoming more and more popular.
Across the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG and the Pignoletto DOC, there are a few different styles of Pignoletto wine including a superiore (dry), spumante and frizzante, sparkling, passito, and late-harvest. These days you’ll even find “Pet-Nat” options that are made by ancestral methods (aka metodo ancestrale), meaning they ferment right in the bottle.
What To Pair With Pignoletto Wine
“Pignoletto is perfect to go with the local ham and salami, fried bread, young cheeses, and light fish dishes, and it’s awesome with oysters,” Filippo advised.
I tried a couple of the still versions (which are rarer) and found them to have a really potent flavor — something I much preferred to pair with a cheese plate. The more prominent frizzante Pignoletto, however, was a wonderful, light anytime beverage which was my favorite, and I enjoyed on its own or with a simple aperitivo.
Where You Can Sip Pignoletto In Bologna
Because Pignoletto is local to this region, you’ll want to add it to the list of must-try dishes and drinks in Bologna. Here are a few places where you can grab a glass for yourself.
Despite its proximity to the famed Piazza Maggiore, this is a favorite amongst locals. Don’t be surprised if you see a group of elderly Italian men speaking with fervor over a card game or a family gathering for a joyful get-together. You won’t find any food on their menu (drinks only, here), but you can bring in anything you’d like to eat. They have a hearty variety of Italian wine types and the price is right at a mere €2 for a glass of Pignoletto. A bonus: it turned out to be the perfect people-watching spot for the afternoon.
A little bit of everything, Enoteca Italiana is a wine shop, deli, market, and enoteca. I loved the laid-back atmosphere here where I could peruse their shelves boasting an endless amount of wines, enjoy a masterfully crafted cheese plate, or shop for special culinary souvenirs all in the same visit. Take your glass and explore the shop or situate yourself at one of the many tables inside, but it’s definitely worth chatting up the employees behind the counter — they’ll happily offer up suggestions and tell you more about the Pignolettos and other wines they’re pouring.
Enter this large indoor market and you’ll find the usual suspects like fresh produce, cheese, and meat stands, but wander into the side wings and find a wide range of restaurants and bars with a cozy eating area.
There are a few places to grab wine here, but I recommend heading to the place in the corner labeled “alimentari” for some Pignoletto and picking up food from any of the vendors there to enjoy at a bistro table.
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Photo Credit: HEX