It doesn’t seem that long ago that Pinot Grigio burst into the American wine scene thanks to brands such as Cavit and Santa Margherita and became an instant darling among consumers. Relatively easy to pronounce, but with that certain sophistication that a mouthful of Italian syllables can provide, it was a bright and fresh choice that made us feel good about what we thought we knew about wine. Until it… wasn’t. While few of us were paying close attention, Pinot Grigio seemed to go from darling to derelict. Even some respectable wine study texts now list “stale beer” among Pinot Grigio’s tasting notes.
“Pinot Grigio is misunderstood because it’s too overly sold; it can be a generic, cheap, easy-drinking, light white wine,” says Jonathan Kleeman, head sommelier of London’s Restaurant Story. “Obviously, Pinot Grigio has the ability to have great depth of flavor and structure, and to be terroir-driven. The issue with Pinot Grigio is the demand that was created by people who just wanted to have something that was light and easy-drinking, with not much depth to it. That’s been pushed further and further, and to a cheaper price point.”
Like every wine grape, however, Pinot Grigio has serious pedigree and is capable of more than what the mass market makes of it, from rich Pinot Gris expressions, to skin-contact ramato wines, to sparkling and pét-nat selections. It’s time to reclaim Pinot Grigio as a respectable grape, and not just a dirty wine word. So we asked 15 wine pros to name a bottle of Pinot Grigio they’re willing to stake their claim on. Here’s what they had to say.
“Pinot Grigio is one of the most planted grapes in the world, with so many different expressions from Alsace, Germany, and Italy. In Friuli, Pinot Grigio found a fantastic habitat with fresh acidity, aromas of alpine herb, and white spring flowers. Here, Livio Felluga created an extraordinary Pinot Grigio. The extended lees contact gives the wine complexity, with candied lemon, fresh and slightly spicy acidity, and notes of watermelon rind and unripe stone fruit.” — Dennis Ballaera, assistant restaurant manager, Armani Ristorante, New York
“A perennial favorite Pinot Grigio/Gris of mine has been the Zind-Humbrecht ‘Rotenberg’ Pinot Gris from Alsace, France. Hailing from a biodynamically farmed, 38-year-old site nestled near Grand Cru Hengst, this Pinot Gris over-delivers in terms of complexity, drinkability, and age-worthiness, especially at its price point. Fermented dry, the juxtaposition of richness and concentration with bright and lifted acidity never ceases to wow me. Imagine deep stone fruit, ripe comice pear, and even mango, all tied together with mandarin orange-like acidity and a broad mineral streak tying this powerful wine together. The bottle is truly one of my favorite wines for the cellar and early drinking alike.” — Ryan Schmied, corporate director of F&B/Experiences at AHC Hospitality, Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Pinot Grigio is having a moment! It is actually a grape being revisited in a new, yet old-school way. I am loving Pinot Grigio macerated on the skins; the grape has a pink blush to its skin, so it makes for very beautiful orange wines. Italians call this style of wine ‘ramato’ and when the skins get to hang out in the fermentation, it creates this blush, almost rose-like color to the wine. My favorite is Hacienda Masiero ‘Moki.’ It is a sparkling Pinot Grigio done in the ancestral method, where the second fermentation happens spontaneously in the bottle. This winery is owned by a family, and now the daughter, Giulia, has been playing around with making some of the cuvées, and this one is hers. The mom actually found an old drawing made by Giulia and used it on the label. The wine is wild and zippy and perfect for the summer!” — Tamy Rofe, partner and sommelier, Colonia Verde, Brooklyn
“A Pinot Grigio I’m loving right now is the Venica & Venica ‘Jesera’ Pinot Grigio from Collio. They are a small, certified biodynamic, family-owned estate from Friuli in the northeast corner of Italy. Jesera is the name of the single vineyard from which this wine comes. I love this example of Pinot Grigio because it has just the right amount of skin contact to give a copper hue, more roundness, and some citrus pith tannins to the mouthfeel, yet still appeals to a wide range of palates. It’s crazy aromatic and then layered with notes of juicy pear, lime, lemon, peach, and ginger. I’ve been loving it with seasonal spring and summer dishes, and it’s perfect alongside a meal on the patio.” — Jodie Battles, beverage director, Bar Pallino, Boston
“I recommend the Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio from Tasmania because it actually has depth of flavor but it’s not trying to be a Pinot Gris. It’s still bone dry, but it has a little bit more fruit character to it. It’s got structure and fresh acidity, shows some complexity, and has some textural feel as well. It’s a good example of what Pinot Grigio can be when it’s made right.” — Jonathan Kleeman, head sommelier, Restaurant Story, London
“Pullus Pinot Grigio from Štajerska, Slovenia is a skin-contact Pinot Grigio that pours a pale pink color, (almost like a rosé), and is packed with aromas of peach and strawberry blossom. On the palate, it’s vibrant with yellow pear, cantaloupe, pink fruit, and more tangy elements like tangerine, yet still it achieves an element of cream to balance things. It’s more racy and mineral-driven than many traditional Pinot Grigios, but feels familiar and unique at the same time. The best part is it’s affordable at around $15.” — John Harington Gilpin, wine director, Millstream, Woodstock, N.Y.
“Dan Person spent years as the head winemaker at Schramsberg before partnering up with his wife Jacqueline to start Carboniste, a line of sparkling wines that encourage you to reimagine what Californian sparkling wine can be. Carboniste 2021 ‘Mackerel’ Brut Nature is a single-vineyard pét-nat of Pinot Grigio sourced from Liberty Oaks Vineyard in Lodi. It carries a surprisingly elegant richness, melding fresh apple notes with zesty, chalky minerality, and fragrant aromas of orange blossom and white tea. It finishes dry and light, making it a great poolside option or the perfect wine to match up for an easy whole branzino from your grill.” — Simi Grewal, sommelier and co-founder, DECANTsf, San Francisco
“One of my favorite takes on Pinot Gris is Jason Lett’s at Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon. A lot of Pinot Gris/Grigio is bought and sold very cynically. Producers know that their consumer is expecting functionally a Vodka and Soda (hold the fruit) in wine form when looking for most commercial Pinot Grigio. This is a win-win for these cynical producers, especially the ones who make ‘fancy’ (read: expensive) examples, because they can farm with very high yields and make very safe winemaking choices but produce at a premium price point. Lett is the opposite of that; he makes a characterful, fruitful example of the variety that really leans into Pinot Grigio’s interesting, lusher texture and mild, appealing bitterness (think: tonic water). It’s also one of the best examples of responsibly farmed domestic wine that’s under $25 or so retail: varietally correct, delicious, and with high integrity.” — Morgan Harris, Master Sommelier, Angler, San Francisco
“I love good Pinot Grigio, and I have made it a small personal mission of mine to convert as many people to be Pinot Grigio drinkers as I can. Most people think of it as ‘old folks wine,’ or ‘acid water with some alcohol,’ but there is so much more to it than the commercial BS that most people think of when they think Pinot Grigio. My personal favorite is Elena Walch Selezione Sudtirol Alto Adige Pinot Grigio. It is bright and beautiful, with great lemon curd citrus qualities and solid minerality. But the biggest surprise about it is that it has some weight that it carries; it is not something that dissipates quickly on your palate. My ideal pairing with this wine is sunshine and good company. Truly, I am not trying to be ironic, but it is such a great wine for a group. If some grilled shrimp make their way in there somewhere, that doesn’t hurt either.” — Alex Cuper, general manager and wine director, El Che Steakhouse, Chicago
“I tend to prefer Pinot Grigios coming from the northeastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The best vineyards in the region lay on Alpine foothills, sandwiched between the warm Adriatic Sea to the south and the Alps to the north. It’s a unique marriage of climates that allows the grapes to ripen fully while maintaining acidity. Additionally, the production style here is more serious, leaning into the textural, rounder side of the grape; Alsatian-like in expression but less fleshy and with more verve. A great, under-the-radar bottling is made by Villa Varda, a small producer located in the Grave denomination. The wine completely over-delivers for the price and showcases notes of ripe summer peach, jasmine, and wet stone wrapped in a medium-bodied, waxy frame. It’s a versatile pairing partner that would sing with a stone fruit and burrata salad or fire-roasted branzino.” — Christopher Plaia, wine director, Marisi Italiano, San Diego
“From vines that are 60 to 80 years old, Vignai da Duline ‘Ronco Pitotti’ from Friuli Colli Orientali is a serious Pinot Grigio that will hit its peak when it is 15 years old. It is nutty with a vivid golden fruit quality. It retains freshness, even with a concentrated richness. I would serve it with rockfish in a lemon butter sauce.” — Joe Crossan, beverage director, Table 301 Restaurants, Greenville, S.C.
“With a bright and balanced acidity, J. Dusi Vineyard Pinot Grigio is a truly approachable white that has great stone fruit and a kick of pomelo. I love it because it’s a truly food-friendly wine, made by a female winemaker who is a fourth generation farmer in California. And you can’t beat the price point!” — Robin Wolf, owner, Highwater, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“While I am not above a bottle of ‘Two Buck Chuck’ Pinot Grigio (I would say I consumed three times more of it than water in my early 20s), I seldom drink a Pinot Grigio that does not have some skin contact — the main reasons being more complexity, more texture, and simply more flavor. The deep blush hues make it even more interesting; it’s technically an orange wine that looks and drinks like a rosato! Bubbles that happen during spontaneous fermentation make Furlani’s ‘Macerato’ Pinot Grigio Pét-Nat a solid go-to for me: fizzy, fresh, and bright with an ABV at 11-ish percent … ultimate patio-pounder.” — Althea Codamon, general manager & beverage director, Aita, Brooklyn
“Borgo San Daniele Pinot Grigio has a long fermentation sur lie, no filtration, and malolactic fermentation. It’s bright and zippy, with clementine and Rainier cherry. Sustainably farmed and woman-owned, it’s the only Pinot Grigio on my list.” — Nick Detrich, beverage director, Small Favors, Bloomington, Ind.
“There are many Pinot Grigios that I thought to mention as stake-worthy, but for me, Cantina Bolzano’s Südtirol from Alto Adige is a standout. This wine is what I call shy; it speaks softly. The aromas, taste, and smell are subtle and hard for a beginner — and even an intermediate — to really pick apart. But what one can’t deny is the overall presentation: somewhat floral with subtle hints of fruit that are accompanied by minerality. If you see this wine, give it a try. It’s worth it!” — Kilolo Strobert, owner, Fermented Grapes, Brooklyn
The article We Asked 15 Wine Pros: What’s a Bottle of Pinot Grigio You Would Stake Your Claim On? appeared first on VinePair.
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