From supermarket dross to the go-to white in the wine bars, how did Pinot Grigio?s transformation come about? Paul Pettengale explains that it?s all about quality…
Though it?s rather hard to believe it, it wasn?t that long ago when any wine with Pinot Grigio on the label would be parked firmly at the bottom of the shelf stack in your local, down-at-heel supermarket. It was mass produced. It was cheap. It was nasty. Oh how the times have changed! In a few years less than a decade, Pinot Grigio is now the go-to wine for those in search of a decent white of a night. Even in up-market wine bars, no less. But is this down to trend or because these wines are now actually worth drinking? And how did this perception reversal come about? Mainly, it was down to money.
Producers in Italy realised that making lakes of the stuff in return for European cash actually wasn?t working out all that well. So they cut down on the volume, upped the quality and started charging a lot more for far better wine. They got richer as a result, proving that quality really is better than quantity.
And slowly, these higher quality wines started to trickle out of Italy. Importers of Italian wine saw Pinot Grigio as the Next Big Thing and progressively-minded buyers working for the supermarkets started getting in on the act, buying decent wines that they could sell for around the magic ?5 mark. The middle classes, used to reaching for the middle shelves rather than the bottom (to which the students stooped), started buying it and liking it. The pubs and wine bars joined in, buying relatively cheap wine that they could mark up pretty heavily. Everyone had a party.
But what next for PG? If you?re willing to go off the beaten track you can find wines of the quality that the Italians drink. Serious wines ? some with price tags that would make a decent Chablis blush. Read about them over the page.
Italia! discovery of the month
From Liberty Wines
So, is this the future of Pinot Grigio? Probably not ? this is a wine that prices itself off the tables of most ? but it is, in our opinion, the variety?s pinnacle.
Harking from the hallowed Colli Orientali zone within the region of Fruili-Venezia-Giulia, it?s produced by a man who?s bucked the trend in higher priced wines by embracing the Stelvin (screwcap to the majority of us) enclosure over the more traditional cork. And hats off to him, as there?s nothing worse than spending a king?s ransom on a bottle of wine that you keep for a while and then discover it?s corked.
This wine is a true journey of discovery, such is its complexity. Magnolia and peach aromas combine with ripe pear, crunchy apple and a little honey. The palate is weighty, but not overly so, with a very refined balance of fruit and acidity. It?s full, rich and rewarding but with a mineral quality that keeps the fruit and honeyed tones in check. Quite simply a brilliant Pinot Grigio that demonstrates just what you can do with the grape variety if you have the skill.
From Berkmann Wines
High in the heart of the Dolomites, this wine from Trentino is produced by Mezzacorona, one of the most respected wineries in the region. Named after a 15th century castle that overlooks the Rotaliano plain, it is a typically crisp, clean Pinot Grigio with white flower and peach skin aromas. It?s not too rich in the mouth, with medium body and a zesty, lemony finish. Enjoy drinking it either on its own or with fish and seafood.
This would work well with prawns cooked with garlic and a little chilli.
From Berkmann Wines
Low temperature wine making, usually where stainless steel tanks are wrapped with cooling mechanisms, is responsible for the best white wines in northern Italy. It helps to keep the wine fresh in the mouth and very aromatic. It?s a method used by Marco Felluga to create a wine with honeysuckle and jasmine aromas, lots of balanced fruit to taste and a long finish with hints of lime and biscuit and a distinctive minerality.
Pan-fried fillets of sea bass or roasted sea bream stuffed with herbs.
We?re sticking to the north of Italy with this wine from Stella Alpina, which is based in the mountainous Alto Adige region. A classic, higher-end Pinot Grigio, it boasts a floral aroma that takes in apple peel and lemon. To taste, it is full of tropical fruit and peach flavours with a medium-to- full body and a zingy, citrus finish. And the even better news? If you buy two bottles then Majestic will charge you just ?8.99 a pop.
Chicken dishes especially. Maybe chicken cooked with garlic, lemon and thyme.
From Berkmann Wines
Mezzacorona produces several Pinot Grigio wines, but this is its flagship offering, the revered Riserva. It utilises an interesting production method whereby 60 per cent of the grape juice is aged in oak whilst the rest is held in stainless steel throughout the fermentation process before being blended back together eight months later. The result? A powerful, complex Pinot Grigio resounding with spiced apple and pear notes and a very full texture.
Grown-up seafood dishes ? it would accompany a whole lobster rather well.
From Great Western Wine
?10.95 (usually ?11.95)
Once again the cold fermentation method is employed to create this wine from Colterenzio ? the tanks are covered with a refrigeration jacket and the entire process is temperature controlled in an ultra-modern facility. With lime, lemon and sage aromas it is a full-bodied mouthful with dense peach and pineapple fruit flavours and a lingering mineral finish that features a touch of almond. A very elegant, controlled wine.
Sip this while enjoying a dozen shucked oysters with a tomato salsa.
Quick! Bag a case of this now! Majestic are currently offering this wine from Tuscany (rather than the north of Italy, where most Pinot Grigio comes from) for just ?5.99 a bottle if you buy two or more. Anyhow, enough of that, what?s it like? Tuscan PGs are softer and warmer than their crisper northern equivalents, for a welcome change. Mellow flavours of melon, peach and pear mingle nicely in the mouth with a touch of acidity.
Grilled chicken or pot- roasted guinea fowl with fresh broad beans.
Enough to make you blush
Rose? Pinot Grigio wines are a common sight these days, being one of the most popular rose?s drunk in pubs and wine bars. The pink tinge comes from the juice being left on the grape skins for several hours after pressing. Pinot Grigio is, of course, a red grape variety, though it?s extremely rare for fully red wines to be made from it because of its intrinsic acidity. Rose? Pinot Grigios are typically strawberry in flavour with a touch of raspberry ? ideally drunk during the summer, especially while the meat cooks on the BBQ. They should always be drunk young ? ideally the year of release ? to realise their fresh, lively characters. A light, rather than full, chilling will result in a lovely glass of wine.