Pinot Grigio: More Than Just A Crowd-Pleaser

August 21, 2014

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: Pinot Grigio is more than just a drink-with-anything summer bottle. We're making sure it's thoughtfully poured and paired. 

Pinot Grigio

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In Atlanta, Georgia, where I live, Pinot Grigio sells like crazy. The weather is warm here for much of the year and, especially in the summer, it's is a very convenient wine to have on hand. 

This is partly because Pinot Grigio has the reputation of being an inoffensive wine, which is both good (it’s a crowd-pleaser) and bad (people think it’s bland). It's so inoffensive, in fact, that someone recently told me that people who don’t like wine drink Pinot Grigio -- because it "doesn’t taste like anything." In other words, it's always the same. 

Pinot Grigio's current reputation is the result of some producers, here in the U.S. and all over the world, letting the grape down. It is often treated as an afterthought, and seldom given the attention it needs or deserves. Some producers plant it in the wrong soils and the wrong climates. Many drinkers overlook its subtlety and finesse –- and therefore, its true potential.

More: Pair that lovely, light bottle of wine with the perfect fresh fish.

A similar thing happens with the people who consume it. What I notice, no matter where I am, is that people just drink Pinot Grigio without drinking it -- without taking the time to taste and notice.

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I wanted to change that, at least a little.

I wanted to find Pinot Grigio that does taste like something, and I wanted to show that it’s possible for anyone else to do the same. So I decided to approach it strategically, and sample wines purchased at three different venues: in a restaurant, at a specialty wine shop, and in a grocery store.

Here's what to look for in each of those scenarios -- and what to pair it with.

Supermarket wine: Drink it young.
Wines for sale in supermarkets typically offer consistency and value, though the number of choices and limited staff available for consultation can make choosing the right wine seem overwhelming. A good rule of thumb is to look on the shelves for a recent vintage, such as the 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris from Oregon, because Pinot Grigio is a grape that is not meant to age. (Note: “Pinot Gris” is simply the French iteration of the Italian “Pinot Grigio.”)

Pinot Grigio is harvested early to retain its freshness and acidity, which means that you can expect a wine that’s crisp and shows flavors like citrus and, as with the Acrobat Pinot Gris, green apple. It complements seafood dishes, for example, that also have some fat to them, such as fried calamari and olive oil-poached tilapia.

Tilapia Poached with Olive Oil, Garlic and Thyme

Specialty wine shop: Highlight versatility
Though light seafood and chicken dishes are both commonly recommended pairings for Pinot Grigio, its versatility also makes it a convenient pairing outside the main course. Try it with cheese, or dessert.

Pinot Grigio is a lighter wine, so choose a cheese that’s similarly easygoing, such as an aged gouda or a young brie. For dessert, steer clear of darker, heavier options like chocolate cakes or puddings and instead try lighter, simpler options like sugar cookies or a lemon tart. Ask for a bottle that has more dimension: Most Pinot Grigios will show a crisp minerality and flavors of citrus, but some -- like the 2012 Chateau Julien Pinot Grigio from Monterrey County, which was recommended to me at my local wine shop -- add layers of bright, floral aromas and melon notes.

Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart

Restaurant: Go to the source
I’ve found that the best and most consistently high-quality Pinot Grigio comes from northern Italy (which is its natural “home,” after all) -- specifically from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige. Look for the 2013 J. Take Hofstätter Pinot Grigio, for example, from Alto Adige: It is expressive of peaches and pears, and finishes with a mouth-watering tanginess. Or try the 2012 Attems Pinot Grigio from Friuli, which I recently drank at St. Cecilia in Atlanta, which was the weightiest of the group I tried. In my opinion, it was also most able to stand up to more substantial dishes like roast chicken with garlic and herb sauce.

Roast Chicken

What is your experience with Pinot Grigio? What are some of your favorites? Please tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • politepatrick
  • Adrianna Salvas
    Adrianna Salvas
  • Jan Weber
    Jan Weber
  • Droplet
  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


politepatrick June 24, 2015
Lovely column / blog Cathy. However, perhaps you might explain your fascination with those (awful but trendy) stemless glasses. I truly look forward to your thoughts.
Adrianna S. August 25, 2014
My favorite for the last year or so has been King's Estate Pinto Gris. It is from Oregon and is a very crisp, clear, subtle floral that finishes very strong and clean. It is great on its own and with lots of dishes you would normally have a white wine with. I especially like it with grilled or roasted fish and chicken (when seasoned simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper) or a vongolle or vegetable heavy pasta dish (think primavera)
Jan W. August 22, 2014
Also good wine for the summer from Trentino/Alto Adige-Südtirol is Lagrein Rosato/Kretzer - they even put ice in it sometimes in Italy, but I prefer it just in a chilled glass or with the bottle chilled in a bucket.

My favorite Pinot Grigio from Südtirol is made by Alois Lageder, as are a lot of other wines from them. Increasingly, estates from South Tyrol/Alto Adige and Trentino are switching to biodynamic agriculture, which is a huge improvement. Also, if you go to the kellerei tasting rooms in Bolzano or Merano, or even local vineyards throughout the region, you can get organic sulfite-free wine. These aren't usually exported because they want their product to last longer when being shipped abroad, but locally wine consumption is very high so there's no need for the preservative.
Cathy H. August 22, 2014
I'll be sure to try out those tasting rooms the next time I'm in the region, Jan. Thank you for the tip!
Droplet August 22, 2014
In the Veneto they have a saying that water is good for washing and wine is what's for drinking. So I guess the mindset with which you approach a wine will determine the opinion you form of it. If looked at that way, than one will see all of the subtle goodness. Great column, Cathy.
Cathy H. August 22, 2014
Thanks so much! I agree -- mindset makes all the difference :-)