Pinot grigio is one of the most controversial grapes in wine. While its devotees are ardent fans, some of them will not eat other varieties, and the detractors are loud. It is one of the most popular wines on the planet. How can this be? Think vanilla ice cream. A pint of vanilla ice cream from a national brand will likely be bland at your local convenience shop. It’s not bad, but it’s just okay. A scoop of freshly made vanilla bean from your local creamery can be delicious, interesting and even revelatory.
The same principle applies to wine: You will likely be disappointed if you choose mass-produced wines. If you select the right producers and regions, you will have an exceptional pinot grigio experience.
Pinot grigio is also known as pinot gris in Francophone nations. It’s Italian for gray Pinot. The name is derived from the color of the grape skins, which are pink rather than grey. However, it makes sense if you consider it somewhere between pinot noir/Blanco (white Pinot) and pinot neuro/noir/noir (black Pinot). These varieties are actually color mutations that naturally occur in the grape.
A key component to producing great pinot grigio is careful vineyard management. The wines will be bright and crisp if the yields are low and the grapes are allowed to ripen fully. This produces vibrant lemon-lime notes along with other fruits such as peach, apricot and green apple. These aromas and flavors are often accompanied with a floral perfume of honeysuckle and jasmine. Pinot Grigio from Italy often has a hint of almond skin. Some wines, such as those from Alsace, can develop subtle biscuity and toasty notes after a little bit of bottle age.
The low-priced bulk wines that dominate the market are what give Pinot grigio a bad rap. While high-yielding grapes can save growers money, they can also result in diluted flavors. Although these wines are often quite simple and neutral, they can also be very tasty for inexperienced drinkers. They are also affordable and perfect for parties.
Pinot grigio is a great option for those seeking a more relaxing drinking experience. It can produce some exceptional and memorable wines if you know how to find it. Although most of Italy’s pinot grigio is produced in the Veneto region, the best examples are often from other areas of Italy.
Chehalem 2017 Three Vineyard (Willamette Valley Oregon, $20)
Pinot Grigio can be grown in any region, French or Italian speaking. Winemakers have the option of naming it either grigio (grigio) or gris. The result is that lighter, crisper styles are often called grigio while more complex, sweeter varieties are called gris. Chehalem’s is inspired by the Alsace vineyards, so it makes sense that this wine is called a grid. This lovely wine is fruity, full-bodied and balanced. It has peach and apple notes that are offset by the acidity and white flowers. This wine is a great choice for vegetarian and poultry dishes, as well as poached fish and pork.
Kabaj 2015 Sivi (Goriska Brda, Slovenia, $23)
Sivi Pinot, the Slovenian term for pinot-grigio, is used by some Friulian producers like Radikon. This wine style is the same on both sides of the border. It’s also common for this variety of wine to be made as an orange (or skin contact) wine. Kabaj is a natural producer from Goriska Brda. They like to keep their wines in reserve for several years before releasing them. This is not your typical pinot grigio. Jean-Michel Morel, a Parisian-born proprietor, puts “pinot gris” on the label. This is a reference to his French heritage as well as the richer style this wine has compared to wines from Veneto. This beautiful pinot grigio is beautifully aged with notes of custard, dried stone fruits, and brioche.
Losonci 2018 (Matra, Hungary, $25)
Pinot grigio in Hungary is called szurkebarat. But no one will expect that you remember that. Want to remember that Hungarian pinot grio is an excellent alternative to Alsatian pinot gris. It has a similar oily texture to Alsatian pinot gris and a rich, aromatic bouquet. The Losonci 2018 pinot noir from Matra, Hungary is spicy, floral, and ripe. It has three weeks of skin contact, which gives it a nice color boost. This is complemented by the high acidity, salty, and smoky character typical of Matra. This wine is made from low-yielding grapes that provide depth and intensity.