Pinot Grigio: More Than Just A Crowd-Pleaser

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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

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.

White Wine on Food52

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!

Tags: Italian, White Wine, Wine, Alcohol