Pinot Grigios are a staple in any wine lovers’ collection, but there are a few bottles that stand out from the rest. Here is our top five list of wines that will not disappoint.
Savvy wine shopping is a process that can be difficult for some people. A trusted retailer shares their top five bottles that stand out from the rest.
Is describing a wine as neutral a criticism or a compliment? The phrase is often used in Pinot Grigio descriptions, periodicals, and books…as well as my personal tasting notes.
Although neutrality isn’t one of my favorite qualities in wine, many consumers must disagree, since Pinot Grigio is a very popular varietal. But what about oenophiles like myself, who like wines with more complex flavors? Are there any Pinot Grigios that we may try? I say yes after tasting over two dozen samples, but with one caveat: they’re not easy to come by.
“ I don’t think of neutrality as a desirable quality in wine. ”Do you have any Pinot Grigios that will satisfy me?
This grape is cultivated all over the globe; the Austrians and Germans refer to it as Grauburgunder, while the French refer to it as Pinot Gris. Although the grape originated in France, the Italians have done an excellent job of making it their own. Unlike Pinot Gris wines, which are typically richer and more substantial and are often matured in wood, Italian Pinot Grigios are light-bodied and dry, and are considerably more popular throughout the globe.
Pinot Grigio is very popular in three northeastern Italian regions: the Alto Adige river, Friuli Grave in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the Veneto. The first two areas produce both excellent and bad Pinot Grigio; the third is best recognized for huge amounts of clearly commercial Pinot Grigio, typically produced by cooperatives.
The most well-known of the three areas is Alto Adige, due in part to its most renowned wine, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. When Count Gaetano Marzotto, Santa Margherita’s creator, chose to release his Pinot Grigio in 1960, he skillfully positioned it as aspirational at a time when high-quality Italian white wine was an oxymoron.
In the 1970s, he started exporting the wine to the United States, and it became a success; light, crisp Pinot Grigio of that kind was practically unknown in the United States at the time. Santa Margherita has maintained its high reputation since then, and it is still one of the most expensive Pinot Grigios available today. Santa Margherita is priced between $20 and $30 a bottle, which is more than double the price of most other Pinot Grigios on the market. (The bottle I bought for this piece cost me $22.)
Some retailers even use this winery’s brand recognition to promote lesser-known Pinot Grigios. Take the handwritten sign above a floor display of cases of Altanuta Pinot Grigio I spotted in a wine shop: “From Alto Adige (as is Santa Margherita), this Pinot Grigio delivers tropical fruits with a touch of mineral, slate, and lemon.” The Altanuta was $8 less expensive at $14 a bottle, but was it as good? It was not the case. It was lighter and more straightforward than its well-known cousin, but both were rather bland—pleasant enough but not particularly memorable.
The 24 Pinot Grigios I bought varied in price from $10 to $25 per bottle and were from the three Italian regions mentioned above (Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Veneto). I purposefully avoided the super-cheap, gimmicky wines and giant-bottle Pinot Grigios (which are plenty) in favor of local producers and well-known brands. After all, my goal wasn’t to despise Pinot Grigio but to (hopefully) discover something better.
Every wine store I went to offered a decent variety of Pinot Grigios. By far the biggest selection was at the Total Wine & More shop in West Orange, New Jersey, with over 100 wines. “Pinot Grigio is staying fairly steady,” according to Brian Gelb, the Maryland-based senior director of European wine for Total Wine & More, who has saw a rise in consumer interest in other Italian whites. However, he hasn’t seen Italian whites like Vermentino or Arneis stealing sales from Pinot Grigio. He said that there are still plenty of Pinot Grigios at the 200-plus Total Wine & More shops throughout the country. Mr. Gelb said, “Depending on the size of the shop, you’ll discover between 55 and 187 Pinot Grigios.”
I made a point of including well-known brands—Cavit, Kris, and Maso Canali, in addition to Santa Margherita, where the word “neutral” appeared frequently in the tasting notes—as well as smaller-production offerings from producers like Jermann, Peter Zemmer, Scarbolo, and Erste+Neue—when shopping for wines. Wines from both the 2019 and 2020 vintages were included in my choices. (There will very certainly be more 2020 Pinot Grigios on the market by the time this piece is published.)
An intriguing side note: I discovered that the more commercial and less appealing the wine, the purpler the back-label writing became. “This crisp Pinot Grigio originates in vineyards situated in the foothills of Northern Italy’s magnificent Alps, home of some of the world’s best Pinot Grigio,” stated the rear label of the 2020 Cavit Pinot Grigio ($10). Cavit proudly offers this wonderfully adaptable wine with over half a century of winemaking knowledge and a love for quality….” That’s a lot of words for a wine that didn’t have much to say in the glass.
The top five wines I liked had very little back-label text and, with the exception of one, were all made in a crisp, mineral style. The exception was the 2020 Erste+Neue Pinot Grigio ($13), which was riper, almost tropical, and had a higher alcohol content (13.5 percent versus the usual 12.5 percent ). For those who like Chardonnay, maybe a Pinot Grigio. The 2019 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Alto Adige ($12), which has a pleasant salty note, and the 2019 Köfererhof Pinot Grigio Valle Isarco Alto Adige ($22), which is vibrant with a lemony herbaceous note, were among the crisper options.
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Two Friulian wines stood out: the 2019 Jermann Pinot Grigio ($20), which was full-bodied with stone fruit aromas and a crisp finish, and the 2019 Jermann Pinot Grigio ($20). And I was so taken with the crisp, minerally 2020 Scarbolo Pinot Grigio “Il Volo” Grave Friuli ($15) that I returned a few days later and purchased three bottles for myself.
Pinot Grigio is a passion for the Scarbolo family, and it shows. They make four distinct wines, each of which is vinified differently. In an email, Mattia Scarbolo, who oversees strategy, sales, and marketing for his family’s vineyard, highlighted their single focus: “We want to do our bit to be excellent ambassadors of this varietal!”
The Pinot Grigios mentioned above are bright and fresh, with unique characteristics that make them enjoyable to drink. When it comes to avoiding confrontation, neutrality may be helpful, but not when it comes to enjoying wine, in my opinion.
OENOFILE / Pinot grigios that are expressive and intriguing
1. Erste+Neue Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2020, $13
This ripe, high-alcohol Pinot Grigio from a high-quality Alto Adige cooperative is a medium-bodied, somewhat tropical take on the grape with a pleasant persistence on the tongue.
2. Köfererhof Pinot Grigio Valle Isarco Alto Adige, 2019 ($22).
The high-altitude vines of the Köfererhof winery, located at the foot of the Dolomite mountains in the Alto Adige area, create this crisp, somewhat herbaceous, and strikingly mineral Pinot Grigio.
3. Jermann Pinot Grigio Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 2019 vintage, $20
This medium-bodied Pinot Grigio is made by Friulian master Silvio Jermann, generally recognized as one of Italy’s best wine producers, and has flavors of lemon, stone fruit, and pear.
4. Grave Friuli Scarbolo Pinot Grigio “Il Volo” 2020, $15
A crisp, almost acidic approach from a renowned Friuli producer who is so dedicated to producing expressive Pinot Grigios that he vinifies four distinct kinds, ranging from this fresh entry-level wine to the powerful Ramato XL.
5. Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Alto Adige, 2019 vintage, $12
The Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio is a light-bodied, fruity, and fresh wine with a little salty note to the end, derived from both hillside and valley-floor vineyards in Alto Adige.
Lettie may be reached at [email protected]
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The wall street journal speakeasy is a wine that stands out from the rest. It has a light, refreshing taste with fruity aromas. It pairs well with white meats, seafood, and vegetables.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best brand of pinot grigio?
The best brand of pinot grigio is the one you like the most.
What is the best Pinot Grigio under 20?
The best Pinot Grigio under $20 is the 2016 Gran Cuvée from Domaine Chandon.
Is Pinot Grigio Santa Margherita good?
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