Thursday, June 26, 2008

Warning: These Wines May Change Your Mind About Pinot Grigio

When Pinot Grigios are good they are very good--but when they are bad, they are horrible.

Overproduced Italian Pinot Grigio flooded into the US market some years back, and much of it was thin and tart. If you chilled it to near freezing and served it on a hot day in place of lemonade no one made much fuss, and soon people who didn't like Chardonnay could find Pinot Grigio on restaurant and bar menus and started ordering it by the glass. More overproduced Pinot Grigio came pouring in to meet the new demand. At cocktail parties, women were offered Pinot Grigio as soon as they entered the door, as if our genetic makeup demanded we receive a glass of the stuff a day or we'd shrivel up and die. Today, the poor grape has joined Merlot and Chardonnay as Varieties Most Likely to Be Dissed in polite wine society. Had Miles of Sideways been a woman, the most famous wine line in movie history may well have been "I am NOT drinking any f&#*ing Pinot Grigio!"

Pinot Grigio--or Pinot Gris as it is called in places outside Italy--is a grape that is capable of making a wide stylistic range of wines. In Alsace, the grape produces wines that have body, intense floral and honeyed notes, and citrus. In Italy, the grape makes wines that are light bodied and acidic, often with a touch of spritziness. Here in the US, Pinot Grigios/Pinot Gris range from the full and melony to the bright and citrusy. And I'm here to tell you that these wines can be excellent.

I've got a pair of very good QPR Pinot Grigios to recommend that should warm the heart and quench the thirst of even skeptical wine lovers who have avoided this grape for the past 10 years.

The first is the very good QPR 2007 Altanuta Pinot Grigio. I received this as a sample, but you should be able to find it near you for between $9 and $15. What I liked most about this wine was that it was well-made and wasn't trying to be something else. As a result, what you got was a tasty, straightforward Pinot Grigio at a very attractive price point. Light aromas of lemon, flowers, and stone accompanied the characteristically pale straw color of this Italian wine. The flavors were citrusy and smooth, with no bitterness or tartness. This was a great summer wine, with a refreshing, light body--and it tastes like an Italian Pinot Grigio should taste with a light, but not watery, freshness. It is a natural partner for shrimp or clams--we had it with linguine alla vongole and the clean citrus flavors were lovely with the briny clams and the sharp garlic, providing a contrast of flavors and textures.

The second is the 2006 Esca Pinot Grigio from the Russian River Valley ($17.99, WineQ). This was one intense wine, with aromas of lemon oil, lemon peel, and a mineral nuance that I simply couldn't place. One of my fellow bloggers, MonkuWino at One Wine Per Week, described this wine as "steely" and that corresponded to what I was smelling in my glass. The flavors are fresh and zesty, full of lemons that turned slightly bitter on the finish. I enjoyed this very good QPR wine immensely, in large part because of those in-your-face lemon oil aromas, and it is one of the better domestic Pinot Grigios I've had. We had it with a pasta dish that was sauced with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, a bit of cream, and orange zest and this really brought out the intense, concentrated aromas and flavors of the wine.

Whether you prefer your Pinot Grigios light and refreshing or steely and intense, there are good choices out there in the market that don't cost a fortune and are a far cry from the anemic wines being poured by the glass in some restaurants. Give one a try and remind yourself that Pinot Grigio--like Merlot--isn't all bad.


noble pig said...

I am going to look for that Esca, sounds wonderful.

helen said...

Great Article! I certainly agree about the quality of wine some restaurants dish out. I mainly buy my
wine online. I agree with Noble that Esca Pinot Grigio does sound rather nice, definaltely one for my shopping list.

tish said...

Nice overview. If you like the full-bodied melony style of Pinot Gris, I would recommend J's RUssian River PG in a heartbeat. Very rich, but still tangy. Expensive at around $20-$25, but QPR is very good compared to Chards at the same price