Monday, August 6, 2012

Terrace View - What's The Story With Pinot Grigio?

Did you know that pinot gris and pinot grigio are the same grape? It is a mutation of pinot noir, a cousin of chardonnay, and it's most expressive style is produced in Alsace where the wine can be full and creamy, with a smokiness belying it's soft acidity. In Italy, known as pinot grigio, it is made into a different style, and although there are good wines, there are also millions upon millions of bottles of flavorless and vapid examples put into the market by large scale wine companies.

Yet, the grape is immensely popular with consumers. Why? Well, the variety has been branded in the US market for a long time so it has been well known to people prior to the diversity and quality we have seen in the last 20 years. It's what your mother and grandmother drank (and still drink). This Italian style of pinot grigio, which is different from the fuller bodied French versions, is picked earlier which retains a higher level of tart acidity and keeps the wine a clear white or pale yellow color rather than the deep, coppery gold associated with a wine labelled pinot gris. As I mentioned before, there is plenty of poor quality wine made in this style, mostly because of overcropping and overproducing in the vineyard in order to make a cheap and profitable industrial crop. Ironically, a lot of people buy pinot grigio instead of chardonnay when in fact the wines (in unoaked versions) can taste remarkably similar.

It's not the grape's fault, and there are really very beautiful examples of pinot grigio on the shelves. These are wines with flavor, character, and a little of the richer, creamy mouthfeel that represents the grape at it's best. You just have to know what to look for. Here are a few tips:

1. Producer - The most important factor. What we like to see are wines made by thoughtful, quality winemakers who have vines in prime areas and bottle on the property. Ask your salesperson to help you.

2. Region - The most expressive pinot grigio in Italy comes from Alto Adige, Trentino, Friuli, and sometimes the Veneto.

3. Price - It's the same as buying an heirloom tomato from a local farmstand, you are going to pay a little more for it. If a bottle is around $10 or less (or $13 for a magnum) be skeptical, nice wines in the NYC market start at around $12, the better ones start at $15 and they are worth it.

4. Oregon - The Beaver State makes some great examples, labelled pinot gris and in a slightly rounder version than the Italian style. Again, the better wines start at $15.

5. The Santa Margherita Myth - It's exactly that, ubiquitous, over-marketed, not even 100% pinot grigio, and perhaps the most over-priced wine on the market. The average price in stores is about $20, which is just an incredibly bad buy. How did we come to this conclusion? We did a blind taste test, click here to see The Great Santa Margarita Experiment.

I hope this inspires you to try a quality pinot grigio!



  1. Well said "there are also millions upon millions of bottles of flavorless and vapid examples put into the market by large scale wine companies".

    There are pinot grigio and "pinot cheapio"


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