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Pinot Grigio to change your mind

Decanter's Tina Gellie explains her wine prejudice against Pinot Grigio, and Ian D'Agata argues the case for it - and picks five Pinot Grigio wines to convince you...

Tina Gellie, associate editor, says: While I like the texture, richness and musky, honeyed notes of Pinot Gris from Alsace as well as New Zealand and Oregon, I tend to avoid those that style themselves Pinot Grigio – especially from Italy. In general I find them insipid and dull with no real character; certainly not worth the money compared to what Italy’s other native whites can offer.

Ian D’Agata, DWWA Regional co-Chair for Italy and Decanter contributing editor, replies:
Pinot Grigio represents a conundrum. Wine drinkers are enthralled, propelling sales skywards all over the world, while collectors and experts are less impressed, viewing it as a wine of little interest and personality.

  • Scroll down for D’Agata’s five Pinot Grigios to change your mind

Pinot Grigio is a victim of its own success. The wine’s poor reputation among cognoscenti is down to mass-volume stuff from crafty producers who churn out wines that, though simple and neutral, offer enough popular appeal to make them enjoyable. Plus, Pinot Grigios at all quality levels are the type of food-friendly wines that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay can only dream of.

Consequently, almost everyone thinks the wine is fine as it is, with these Pinot Grigios of easy appeal basking in amazing commercial success and driving up market prices (even those reportedly made in southern Italy, a place too hot to give quality Pinot Grigio; caveat emptor). Therefore nobody – importers and public alike – wants to spend more to buy Italy’s complex, top-level wines. Importers who buy Pinot Grigios at €4 a bottle take a risk: all the usual mark-ups later, they might find the wine hard to sell. It follows that importing a Pinot Grigio that costs €10 a bottle is out of the question.

The sad flipside to all this is that wine lovers outside Italy rarely get to taste the country’s best examples, so inevitably Pinot Grigio doesn’t enjoy the reputation it can deserve. High quality Italian Pinot Grigios are one of the world’s best-kept secrets. A shame, as wines from the best producers mix a tactile mouthfeel with musky scents and flavours of yellow apple and pear, with mineral and spicy nuances.

What Pinot Grigio tastes like

When the product of low yields and with enough concentration and extract, Pinot Grigio can also stand up to light oak-ageing or extended skin contact. In fact, it’s mostly Italy’s more judiciously oaked Pinot Grigios that are world class. However, oaked or unoaked, Italy’s remains a specific style of Pinot Grigio – the antithesis to those wines labelled Pinot Gris (same variety, different name).

Whereas Alsatian Pinot Gris wines are quite rich (often with residual sugar even in ‘dry’ styles), and Oregon and New Zealand examples also show an oily texture, even the best Italian Pinot Grigios are always about freshness, with graceful and refined dry, mineral flavours.

Terroir is another bonus. Friuli’s warmer Isonzo area produces wines with ripe banana, pineapple and peach flavours, while the cooler Collio and Colli Orientali offer versions that are delicate, spicy, mineral and taut. In Alto Adige, Pinot Grigios are more penetrating, while in Valle d’Aosta, where the variety seems to reach its qualitative zenith, wines combine the best of both Friuli and Alto Adige.

Commit the names of Italy’s best Pinot Grigio wines to memory and you’ll become a believer.

Pinot Grigio to change your mind:


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