Tracking the elusive Pignolo

Calling all wine lovers; quick, tell me about Pignolo wine.

If you’re like me, faced with a bottle of pignolo, you might have gone ‘Huh? Is it white or is it red? And where does it come from? Is it like a pignoli (a pine nut?) What pairs with it?’

To answer all of the above: Red, Italy, No; primarily roasted or grilled meat and game, but thankfully dark rich chocolate pairs well also because that was the dessert I brought to a friends house who invited me over to share her bottle of 2003 Livon El Doro Pignolo (price tag- approximately $32).

The Livon Vineyards are in the Fruili region of Italy, the very top of the boot. One source found online listed the Pignolo grape as one that has slowly been brought back from the brink of extinction by small wineries and dedicated viticulturists, much like the Falanghina white grape, another of my current unusual varietal finds this year. But search as I might, I found precious little else about the grape other than this description from The Italian Wine Consortium.

The name derives from the form of the bunches, which are small and firm, reminiscent of a pine cone (pigna, in Italian). It is certainly an important variety, possibly bound for a successful comeback.

Its presence in the region has been documented since 1398, when Francesco from Carrara requested the Serenissima (as the Maritime Republic of Venice was know at the time) a permit to ship 20 barrels of Pignolo from Rosazzo, from Friuli to Padua, for his own use and well-being, following the advice of his doctor.

The Pignolo roots are traced to the vineyards of the Rosazzo Abbey, where it was probably originally planted by the Benedictine monks. The wine produced with this grapes is of extremely high quality. The color is intense ruby red, with complex perfume and important structure. It is considered one of the Friuli wines that improves with ageing, producing results that stand up to the most noble Italian red wines.

So I was pretty excited to try out this wine as I headed to my friends house, a sack of snacks in hand. The heat had built throughout the day but we retreated to her shady backyard under the most enormous oak tree I think I have ever seen and proceeded to explore this unique find. She has the pleasure of working for a wine distributor and gets access to many great bottles, and like me, does not have an interested wine drinking buddy at home to share with so we decided that we would explore our shared love of unique and unusual varietals together. The initial color of the Pignolo was deeply red in the body with a lighter cranberry rim and the scent was a nose-numbing rich blend of fruit, earth and peppery undertones. Based on scent alone, I expected a full flavored sock to the jaw on the first sip but was pleasantly surprised by a mellow taste of fruit, spice and heady herbs that tasted a bit like being in the midst of a rich loamy forest. It wouldn’t be called the quintessential summer wine by any means, but it was delicious, different and easily drinkable, and with the upcoming Fall weather, it would be a wonderful asset on a cool night by a crackling wood fire.

We snacked on bread, cheese, fruit and cool vegetables with a carrot-ginger dip, but our dessert, a rich chocolate dip served with strawberries highlighted this amazing wine so beautifully that we were rather speechless as we sipped and nibbled. I’m all for experimentation when it comes to wine as is my wine drinking friend, and with about 4000 varietals out there, I imagine we could sip and savor with blissful results for quite some time.

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