When it comes to wine, trends can be as damaging and despicable as storing your bottles next to a full-blast heater. Fads can even go so far as to turn perfectly good grapes mediocre—and sometimes worse. Consider, if you will, Exhibit A: Pinot Grigio.
“If you step away from any [Pinot Grigio] that says ‘Veneto,’ you’ve already increased the quality,” offers Jim Clarke, the wine director at New York’s Armani restaurant. True enough: Thanks to some bulk producers who churn out rivers of uninspired, golden-hued juice, Pinot Grigio has been flooding the market for years, turning a respectable grape into, at best, insipid and unmemorable vino. “It’s the most over-cropped, over-produced wine on the market, but it’s just a shadow of what the grape can do,” says Tony DiDio of New York wine brand management firm TDS. “Instead of seeing serious wines for pairing, we see a lot of simple quaffing wines.”
To really understand the charms and grace of which Pinot Grigio is capable, turn your attention to the northwesterly climes of Italy’s Alto Adige region, where evidence of grape-growing dates back to 500 B.C. It is in this Alps-rimmed region (where you’re far more likely to be greeted with a hearty “Guten tag!” than “Buon giorno!,” as 70 percent of the population here speaks German) that you will find outstanding examples of what Pinot Grigio can and should be. Among the region’s 13,100 acres of vines (for perspective, that’s merely a third of the entire of Napa), nearly 60 percent are devoted to white grapes, with Pinot Grigio topping production in that arena.
When done well, Pinot Grigio is not only incredibly pleasing to the nose, but in a place like Alto Adige, it also expresses itself on the palate with gorgeous fruit, spice, great acidity (from the nose-bleed seats where it’s typically planted) and minerality from the limestone and slate-based soils. And with interesting, outside-the-box thinking—like adding a little skin contact from this rosy-skinned grape varietal (it’s not uncommon for the current darling of wine geekdom, “orange” wines, to be made from PG, gaining a pretty copper-tinged hue from time spent fermenting on the skins), fermenting in the barrel and aging in oak—there are many interesting expressions out there that more than deserve your cork-popping attention.
2011 Kaltern Caldaro Pinot Grigio Söll
About 20 percent of the juice of this super-interesting, single-vineyard Pinot Grigio spends a little time in used oak, and with a hue that reminds one a little bit of rose gold, it wouldn’t be surprising if it also saw a little contact as well. Pretty floral nose, with mouth-filling flavors of pear, Juicy Fruit gum (in a good way!), as well as a hint of white pepper and sweet spice.
2012 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio
The affable Peter Zemmer is the third generation of his family (his grandfather kicked things off in 1928) to head up their estate-grown offerings. The PG here grows at around 500 feet above sea level, digging deep into the rocky soil, which adds a minerally edge to the apple and pink grapefruit notes in this zingy offering from an outstanding producer.
2011 Nals Margreid Punggle Pinot Grigio
The label reads 13% percent ABV, but you’d never know it given how refreshing and balanced this wine is, thanks in no small part to its great acidity. Expect a nose full of dill and white grapefruit, with pretty notes of apples, and a finish reminiscent of pine resin.
2012 Terlano Pinot Grigio
If Terlano can’t make a white wine lover out of you, nobody can. Known for aging their whites, this PG offers ripe apples and grapefruit on the nose and palate, with bits of spice, too, and a slightly, pleasingly unctuous texture that is propped up by a great, vibrating dose of acidity.
2012 Weingut Castel Sallegg “Pulvernai”
Full and fleshy, with aromas and flavors of pear, pink grapefruit, and flowers, this wine takes an interesting turn on the palate toward rose candy and tangerine, and a good dose of snappy minerality.
2011 Castelfeder Pinot Grigio
With aromas of rose and orangeflower water, this cheerful white is bright and juicy on the palate, with lots of full, ripe apple notes and spice, and a devilishly unctuous finish
Amy Zavatto is the deputy editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn magazines, as well as a contributing writer for Grapecollective, an online wine magazine launching in the summer.