#newwinethisweek Week 47 – Pinot bloody Grigio!
Mike is playing some interesting games with us with his latest picks. Last week it was the hard to find, but definitely worth the effort, reintegration of Lambrusco into our repertoire… this week he has gone to the total opposite end of the spectrum, and plumped for perhaps the most ubiquitous grape on the supermarket shelf… Pinot Grigio:
I am going to be 100% honest here. I am not happy with Mike for this choice. Most of the Pinot Grigio available to us is the dullest, most uninspiring and boring wine out there. I have thought long and hard about what to write about this week’s selection and I am going to take a slightly different angle with my recommendations. But before we get there, let’s start with some background.
Pinot Grigio is actually a mutation of the great red grape, Pinot Noir and looks identical in the vineyard until the colour of the grapes change at veraison. The other interesting fact is that it can be argued that Pinot Grigio is a style, as opposed to a variety. This is because another name (or the proper name?) for the grape is Pinot Gris; the “gris” refers to the grey, slightly pale and dusty colour of the grape in the vineyard in Pinot’s homeland of Burgundy. “Grigio” is Italian for grey, where the grape has become world famous for producing cheap, light, and dry white wines.
Amazingly Pinot Grigio is only the 4th most grown white grape variety in Italy, behind Trebbiano, Chardonnay and Glera (one of the Prosecco grapes). The light and crisp style that so many have fallen in love (why??) is achieved by high yields, early harvesting to retain as much acidity as possible (the variety is naturally low in acidity), and fermentation in huge stainless steel tanks to keep the clean fruity flavours to the fore… and to keep the costs down. That is how the blandness gets into the bottle and cost less than £5 on the supermarket shelf.
But there is a silver lining to Pinot Grigio. Let’s start with quality Pinot Grigio from Italy; it really does exist. Most of the bottles (and boxes) you find in the supermarket will have “Italy” as the source of the grapes. This could come from anywhere in the country and is probably be a blend of fruit from many different commercial vineyards. But look a little higher on the price scale and you will find wines from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, where Pinot Grigio is taken seriously. The yields from old vines are cut low, the grapes are hand harvested, and the wine is matured for longer periods of time in oak barrels (not necessarily new). This creates wines of depth, texture and elegance that you would never guess to be Pinot Grigio if your only experience is a glass of house wine down the pub.
The second reason for persisting with the grape are the fine examples, usually labelled as Pinot Gris, that are being produced outside Italy. These wines are richer and weightier, with complex aromas and flavours of pears, apples, peaches, sweet spices and even a hint of smoke. In my mind I don’t even associate these wines with Pinot Grigio, especially the bottles I have so thoroughly enjoyed from Alsace and, more recently, New Zealand. But that’s just me being a wine snob again.
So after my initial diatribe, it turns out there is good be had from Pinot Grigio. All I ask is that you give it a proper chance and look for the good stuff. Maybe we should start a campaign to reclaim the grape and restore it near the top of the white grape hierarchy? Just promise me you won’t buy a £3 bottle and tell us how crap it is!
Some Italians to try: