The Pinot Grigio Prejudice
Americans love wine. We drink so much of it that we actually consume more wine than any other nation in the world! It’s the Millennials who are largely responsible for pushing our charts of wine consumption skyward. It has been speculated that the media is a big influence on their choice of beverage du jour, through movies and television shows rife with young, hip, main characters imbibing wine in ever-increasing amounts (Thach, 2015).
Of all the wine drank on our star-spangled shores, Pinot Grigio is the third most popular wine in the US, right after first-place Chardonnay and second-place Cabernet Sauvignon (Thach, 2015). Despite Pinot Grigio’s great popularity, it has largely been rebuffed by the wine community as the Muzak of the wine world. The great wine glass maker Riedel doesn’t even make a Pinot Grigio glass! They make glasses for Daiginjo, Kalterer See Auslese, and Rheingau, but nothing, nada, zip, for Pinot Grigio. Why not, you ask? So glad you asked!
The Pinot Grigio Prejudice abounds mostly because some wine aficionados believe Pinot Grigio wines to be too one-dimensional to warrant the admiration bestowed upon other white varietals. But this unfair judgment is mostly due to the great numbers of mass-marketed, low-budget Pinot Grigio wines produced (Thach, 2015), and not the better quality, refreshingly high acid, bright, minerally, quaffable wines also produced, but at a slightly elevated price point (VinePair).
Pinot Grigio Done Right is Like a Hemingway Novel
Another factor in Pinot Grigio’s bad rap is, in part, due to it being promoted as a “training wheels wine” (Frazier, n.d.a.), second only to white zinfandel. Oh contraire! Pinot Grigio done right is like a Hemingway novel: sharp, dry, and with no flowery artifice to mask its salinity. A good Pinot Grigio brims with fresh notes of lemon, lime, apples, and honeysuckle. Pinot Grigio pairs beautifully with fish and shellfish, white pastas, appetizers, and summer salads. It also goes great with mild cheeses (although I have paired it with an extra-sharp Vermont aged white cheddar and it held its own!).
What’s in a Name?
Are Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio the same wine? Yes and no. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape, just grown in different regions of the world and produced in different styles. The grape actually originated in Burgundy, France (hence the Pinot Gris appellation). The name Pinot Gris was derived from the French word pinot for the grape structure, which resembles a pine cone; and gris, because the grape, a cousin of Pinot Noir, is actually gray in color rather than the green of other white varietals (Schmitt, 2017). Pinot Gris style wines pair well with heartier fare such as hard cheeses, squashes and yams, cheese casseroles, and chicken and pork dishes. Pinot Gris is sort of like Pinot Grigio’s older, college-aged sister; more sophisticated, with greater depth and character, but with a little less sassiness, in my book, at least. And I must confess, I am a sass woman!
In the 1300s, the Pinot Gris grape migrated to Switzerland and eventually to northeastern Italy (Lombardy, the Veneto Fruili, Trentino, and Alto Adige), where its name and production style became known as Pinot Grigio (VinePair, n.d.a.). Even though the wine is French in origin, it was the Italians who popularized it and brought the wine to the global market (Gorman-McAdams, 2014).
In Italy, Pinot Grigio wines are grown and produced in the Italian style and are often crisp with lively fruit, flowery bouquets, and a dash of zing on the finish (Gorman-McAdams, 2014). According to Wine Folly (2014), regions with chillier temperatures are likely to produce wines in this method. Some regions to look for with Pinot Grigio of this type are: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy; Veneto and Lombardy, Italy; Austria; Hungary; Slovenia; Romania; Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau in Germany; and Okanagan, Canada.
On the other hand, Old World Alsace style Pinot Gris wines are more fruit forward, higher in alcohol, less acidic, denser in flavor, and provide a slicker mouth feel. Stone fruit flavors balance the citrus characteristics in Alsace style Pinot Gris wines. According to Wine Folly (2014), several of the countries that make this style are, interestingly, the New World wine regions of Fruili-Venezia Guilia, Sicily; Abruzzo and Tuscany in Italy; Australia; New Zealand; Chile; Argentina; and California, Oregon, and Washington in the US. Alsace style Pinot Grigios are also considered to be a better investment if cellaring your wine is a priority.
Terlato Pinot Grigio is Liquid Summer
Admittedly, I have a peculiar fixation on rooting for the underdog. It’s been a lifelong preoccupation: befriend the bullied kid; join the Rolling Stones camp versus the megalithic Beatles one; love jazz and blues when rock was king; and, most recently, be in pursuit of the perfect Pinot. Pinot Grigio, that is! I think I may have found it in Terlato Pinot Grigio, 2015, (no affiliate marketing ploy—just the love of wine). For $20 a bottle, I think you’ll find it’s like liquid summer; evocative of a warm sunny day with low humidity and bright blue skies, a delicious salad on the patio and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background in chorus with the birds.
Those are my unconventional Pinot Grigio tasting notes, backed by extensive hands-on-wine-glass research. Please share with us the magic that slides out of your next bottle of Pinot Grigio. Together we can defeat the Pinot Grigio Prejudice for the good of all wine drinkers—present and future! We also welcome recommendations of other great Pinot Grigio wines as you discover them. Keep us posted!
Frazier, K. (n.d.a.) Best white wine for beginners. Love to know. [Blog]. Downloaded from
Gorman-McAdams, M. (2014, April 25). What’s the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? [Blog]. Downloaded from https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-pinot-gris-and-pinot-grigio-126507
Learn about Pinot Grigio white wine. VinePair. [Blog]. Downloaded from https://vinepair.com/wine-101/learn-pinot-grigio-white-wine/
Schmitt, P. (2017, September 1).Everything you need to know about Pinot Grigio. Downloaded from https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/09/everything-you-need-to-know-about-pinot-grigio/
Thach, L. (2015, January 24). The state of wine drinking in America today. The Week. Downloaded from http://theweek.com/articles/532653/state-winedrinking-america-today
The 3 types of Pinot Grigio. (2014, June 18). Downloaded from https://winefolly.com/review/3-types-pinot-grigio/
Wine in America. (2017, December). Pbs.org [Blog]. Downloaded from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/wine-america/