My title sounds like it should be a contradiction in terms. Because it is such a simple wine, Pinot Grigio is easy to pigeon hole as inconsequential. When it surpassed Chardonnay in sales at this store several years ago I was elated because Chardonnay had ruled the roost in white wine popularity for so long. Honestly, I welcomed any change. When I told one of my vendors about the change, he said, "I'm so sorry." I'm sure he felt it was a step backwards considering the light simplicity of Pinot contrasted with the rich complexity of Chardonnay. As a longtime wine retailer I don't think he understood my ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) feelings about the subject at that time.
Earlier this summer I had a peculiar situation here at the store. Either because I was asleep at the wheel or the stuff was just selling so well, I ran out of $10 pinots. I still had several that were upwards from $15 though. Conveniently, that situation actually turned into one of those "learning moments" for me because I could now tell whether my customers were strictly buying on price; or if they liked the flavor of Pinot Grigio, they may be persuaded to buy a more expensive bottle. About half went upscale, by the way, and I found an alternative wine for the others.
Personally it took a long time for me to acquire a taste for the stuff, but remember I go back to the bad old days of Bolla Soave when Italy wasn't trying to sell great white wines here. (Actually you could clean oil stains in your driveway with some of that acidic stuff!) Then along came Santa Margherita, the industry leader in high priced pinot, and like all things mass-marketed, quality was uneven, but because they priced it so high, others with a better product soon followed their lead. In recent years I have sold pinots for up to $35 a bottle!
So what is the difference between $10 pinot and $30 pinot? Well, $20, of course! Otherwise, most $10 pinots are light in body, simply flavored, and dryness is relative. The best Pinot Grigios are rich, dry, and minerally with complex aromas and flavors which may include apricot, pear, apple, pineapple, banana, or raspberry along with teas and grasses, all of which is structured in a frank and nuanced format. Pinot Grigio at any price is quintessential seafood and salad wine.
This past summer the two best selling pinots in the store were from Sicily (Blog 7/16/14). As a rule, the best mass marketed pinots come from the other end of Italy, Veneto in particular. If you want to go upscale from there, it's Trentino, Alto Adige, or Friuli-Venezia Giuli to the north and east respectively. In general Friuli features more richness and complexity while Alto Adige is all about aroma and minerality. Then if you want something even more substantial, go with Pinot Gris from Alsace where some will even stand up to sausages!
Join us here on Friday November 7th between 5 and 8pm when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections once again teaches us how great French wines can be. Along with French Burgundies, David is likely to have the great Fattori Valparadiso Pinot Grigio open also. Then on the 14th David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with more French stuff. This time it's the country wines that we'll offer. Please join us for those events.