Get to Know Your Grapes
By Allegra Angelo
GET TO KNOW YOUR GRAPES
Rethinking Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio — two words that make some sommeliers cringe.
“I’d like a glass of Pinot Grigio” is typically code for: “I’d like an easy-drinking glass of white wine, dry.” But, hear us out. "Easy" doesn't have to mean boring or dare-we-say, dumbed down. Easy can be interesting without being overwhelming, classy without being luxury.
Pinot Grigio is a neutral grape. When you stick your nose in the glass, the aromas are modest, far from an exuberant Riesling or the starburst of a Sauvignon Blanc. It usually smells like fresh yellow and red apple, underripe white peach, fresh rain or stone, lager beer (which I never smell, but a few of my colleagues do), cereal grains, and subtle oxidative tones like damp straw, almond or peanut shell, and sometimes Bit-O-Honey.
On the palate, these wines don't gesture too far in either direction — acidity hovers around moderate-plus, same with body and alcohol. To get something interesting in the glass, choose a producer from one of Italy’s superior white wine regions, Alto Adige or Friuli. Then, look for an entry-level or middle-tier Pinot Grigio powered by older vines (preferably organically farmed) and made with thoughtful cellar methods — skin contact, time on the lees, or aging in breathable vessels like amphorae or barrels. So, next time you’re in the mood for “an easy drinking glass of white,” elevate your game and choose a Pinot Grigio with personality and dare we say, spunk? Featured wines available for purchase with free shipping!
Alto Adige refers to “Above the Adige River” which joins the Isarco River to form the region’s “Y” shaped valley in the Southern Limestone Alps. It’s an outdoor haven for skiing, hiking, and thermal spas, but the viticulture is impressive — terraced hillsides of leafy greens that light-up like lightbulbs in the afternoon sun. The Pinot Grigios from here are textural yet buoyant, charged with green mountain air and cold stone, often reminiscent of Austria’s great Grüner Veltliner. The best producers age their wines on the lees, dead and residual yeast cells (and minor particles) that, after fermentation, precipitate out of solution and fall to the bottom of the tank. Yet, within this “junk” there is a treasure — contact between the wine and its lees adds fabric to the final wine, so when you drink it, it doesn’t disappear like water. The wine hangs-out for a while, spilling over into the crannies of your mouth (yum!) Alto Adige's best Pinot Grigios are medium-plus in body with plenty of acidity and dryness to entertain the high-brow palates. Here are a few of our Vinya-approved selections, link to purchase your new delicious —
If drinking Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige is like going for a leisurely hike in the green mountain air, then drinking Pinot Grigio from Friuli is like jumping from a crag into the wind. You can argue that the most intense styles of Pinot Grigio come from Friuli, a region that was an incubator for skin-contact styles of wine, wines that let the grape juice touch its skins, brushing-in color and flavor. Think of everyday fruits that have delicious skins that get “left behind,” sacrificing flavor for culinary appearance — butternut squash, eggplants, apples, pears, peaches, and tomatoes. Pinot Grigio is kind-of the same. Pinot Grigio is a “mutant” of Pinot Noir, the result of a naturally occurring mutation in the DNA which “switches-off” the genes responsible for creating the red pigments, known as anthocyanins. If you look at a Pinot Grigio grape up-close, it is a pinkish grey-blue color. The historical skin-contact practice in Friuli is called ramato, referring to the copper color in the final wines. Then in the 1990s, a handful of iconic producers took ramato to the next level, making wines with greater skin-contact, more densely textured and colored, nicknamed orange wines. In the last decade, there’s been a refreshing shift away from the loud orange style, back to the soft copper one. The best ramato wines are as mind-blowingly intense as the orange wines but have more lift and glide on the palate, making them easier to sip and tap “repeat.” The beloved areas in Friuli for white wine viticulture are the hilly or colline regions such as Friuli Colli Orientali and Collio Goriziano (Collio). Here, the climate is borderline Mediterranean, allowing Pinot Grigio to ripen fully, squeezing out every inch of its aroma into the glass, and the soils are a jackpot of marl-sandstones, yellowish limestones, and gravels, which result in a soothing attack of minerality on the palate. Here are a few of our Vinya-approved selections, link to purchase you new delicious —