Guest Contributor
Richard Baudains – Journalist & Wine Writer

At the 2024 World Pignolo Day event, organised by the newly founded Associazione del Pignolo del Friuli Venezia Giulia on 20th March, I had the rare privilege of tasting 51 monovarietal Pignolo wines in vintages from 2019 to 2006.

I wrote ‘rare’, but ‘unique’ would be more appropriate because assembling 51 wines in a single tasting entails a search for the almost invisible. The majority of the growers who produce Pignolo cultivate less than one hectare of the variety and to the best of my knowledge such a large-scale tasting has never been held before.

Hats off to the producers and to Ben Little for his passion, energy, and determination in making this happen.

A unique privilege

There is a distinct possibility that Pignolo would have met the same sad fate as innumerable Italian native varieties, if it had not been saved from extinction in the early 1970s thanks to cuttings taken from vines on the hill of Rosazzo, in the province of Udine. (The complete story of the rediscovery can be found in Ben Little’s book, cited below)

Official recognition of the variety by the Regione di Friuli Venezia Giulia in 1978 opened the way to further planting, but it was not until 1995 that Pignolo was included in the disciplinare of the Colli Orientali del Friuli. The wine caused a great stir in critical circles of the period and there was a feeling in the air that Pignolo would become the flagship red which was missing from the region that had built its reputation on white wines. However, while its status as a heritage wine is assured, the critical mass necessary for Pignolo to make a significant commercial impact has never been achieved.

Today, the majority of the 60 or so producers who make Pignolo grow less than one hectare of the variety. It is this rarity which inspired the title of Ben Little’s impeccably researched 432-page Pignolo, Cultivating the Invisible. The book, published in 2021, has given the wine international exposure and the author’s efforts in support of Pignolo have been instrumental in the creation of the newly founded Associazione del Pignolo del Friuli Venezia Giulia, which promises a much less invisible future for the wine.

Pignolo is a late ripening variety with low yields, small bunches, and small berries. The wines are high in tannin and acidity and potentially in alcohol, (especially if grapes are picked late and/or dried) with a distinctive aromatic signature of dark berry fruit with an earthiness in the background that comes from the wines phenolic character.

Most of the wine comes from the hills of Pignolo’s native Colli Orientali, however there are also small but significant productions in Collio, Friuli Isonzo, Friuli Aquileia and Friuli Grave.

A minimum of three years ageing is obligatory to qualify for the DOP Friuli Colli Orientali (four years for the Riserva wines from the Rosazzo sub-zone). Pignolo has a prodigious capacity for evolution, and I have the sensation that many wines only begin to peak at eight to ten years (which might mean ten years in barrel).

Clearly with this profile, Pignolo is not an immediate wine, it asks to be engaged with, but it is one of those which can set your pulse racing, as only great wines can.

“Pignolo is not an immediate wine,
it asks to be engaged with,
but it is one of those which can set your pulse racing,
as only great wines can.”

– Richard Baudains

Here in alphabetical order
are the wines that impressed me most
in the Pignolo Citizen tasting. (1)

*Click on each wine to review Richard’s individual comments

Borgo San Daniele, Arbis Ròs, Pignolo 2018 – DOC Isonzo del Friuli

Complex nose of herbs and wild berries, tight tannins but lovely fluid progression on the palate and intense fruit finish. Refined.

Bressan Mastri Vinai Pignol 2010 – IGT Rosso Venezia Giulia

Mature complex nose of great refinement, close weave texture on the palate, dry firm sappy finish. Masterful.

Gigante Adriano Pignolo 2006 – DOC Colli Orientali del Friuli

Wild berries and violets on the nose, dense and deep on the palate with velvet tannins and pristine aromatic finish. Positive evolution.

Moschioni Michele Pignolo Riserva 2013 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Inky, saturated colour, ripe raisiny fruit, powerful fleshy palate, long grapey finish. Oversize but it works.

Mulino delle Tolle Pignolo 2019 – IGT Trevenezie

Dark blossom and blackberry nose, fresh juicy palate with well-integrated oak and long precise finish. Direct, appetizing.

Petrucco, Ronco di Paolo Pignolo 2018 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Attractive, bright ruby shade, inky phenolic nose, lots of energy in mid-palate and glossy finish. Young, great potential.

Radikon Pignoli 2011 – IGT Rosso Venezia Giulia

Earthy, iron filings nose, concentrated power on the palate, bone dry finish of great tangy intensity. Huge personality.

Ronco di Cialla Pignolo 2016 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Delicate, complex nose with bilberry and wild herbs, subtle but deep on the palate, great length, and suppleness. Pure elegance.

Specogna Pignolo 2016 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Mix of fruit and undergrowth on the nose, intense vibrant palate with ripe tannins and firm underlying structure. Exemplary.

Stroppolatini Pignolo 2015 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Earthy, slightly up-lifted nose with enticing hints of spice, broad and dry on the palate, long savoury finish. Mature.

Vie D’Alt Pignolo 2018 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Understated but complex, natural ferment nose, great texture on the palate and a long, grippy finish with notes of liquorice and blackberry. “Terroir wine”.

Le Vigne di Zamò Pignolo 2009 – DOC Friuli Colli Orientali

Very attractive floral nuances on the nose, tight tannic palate with a bright underlying freshness and a return of dark berries in the finish. Great vitality.

Some reflections on the tasting.

• I detected a precision in the winemaking in many of the samples which I haven’t always found tasting Pignolo on other occasions.

• I was positively surprised by the fresh immediacy of many of the younger wines.

• Having said that, I think there could be a danger of over-simplifying a complex, challenging variety.

• Some of the wines that impressed me most were dense and chewy, others had fine weave textures. What tips the balance is not so much the amount of extract as the quality of the tannins.

• The distinctive dark fruit character is a thread that runs through the vintages from the youngest to the most mature.

• Very evident new oak influences can distract from that fruit.

(1) This was a walk-around tasting, with labels in view, open to the public.

Event Photos: Daniela Mongiat
Pignolo Leaf Photo: Ben Little

Go top