But it doesn’t have to be. Pinot Grigio—or Pinot Gris here and in Alsace—can be a great food wine as well as a refreshing summer sipper. And get this: Pinot Grigio is the single most popular imported wine in this country, accounting for around 12 percent of the imported wine market. So somebody besides me must like it.
Most Italian Pinot Grigio comes from Italy’s northernmost wine regions of Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and especially Friuli-Venezia Giulia, but Pinot Grigio is also grown and made in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. The grape itself often has a grayish hue (hence the French term “gris,” which means gray) and yields a dry white wine which is typically light, crisp and fruity, with a hint of nuts (almonds mostly).
The most popular Pinot Grigio sold in this country is Santa Margherita from Trentino-Alto Adige. It used to be one of my favorite versions of Pinot Grigio as well until the wine’s popularity and price crept out of my range ($24). There are examples of Pinot Grigio that are just as good and not as expensive. For instance, the wine Dave Heiblim told me about: Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio 2006 ($20) from Alto Adige has subtle banana-lemon scents and is more full-bodied than most Pinot Grigio, with pretty apricot and tangerine flavors and a surprisingly long finish. It’s one of the more passionate Pinots from Italy I’ve tasted, and it would be terrific, I think, with the white pizza at Este.
In the past, I’ve been a fan of Giovanni Puiatti Zuccole Pinot Grigio ($16). This Friuli wine is unoaked and typically features pear, citrus and green apple flavors. However, the 2005 bottle I sampled recently tasted flabby, over-the-hill and slightly maderized despite the composite cork. Wait for a newer vintage to arrive.
Compared to the light, almost lemon-colored Zuccole, Tenuta Villanova Pinot Grigio 2005 ($13) looks in the glass like Chardonnay. This vintage has a deep, golden color that I don’t usually expect from Pinot Gris, which tends normally to be the color of straw. This Friulian wine has earthy mineral aromas with some honey-maple scents on top. It actually drinks lighter than it looks: It’s Mohave desert-dry, well-balanced and would nicely compliment a big bowl of cioppino. I guess Villanova knows a thing or two about making Pinot Grigio; they’ve been making wine since 1499.
Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2005 ($16) sounds German or Austrian, but it comes from Alto Adige. Although, if you ever visit the Tiefenbrunner estate, called Tiefenbrunner Castel Turmhof, you’ll think you’re in Bavaria. I first tasted this wine during a lunch at Fratelli Ristorante and liked it at the time. Tasting it again, I found it to have slightly smoky aromas with hints of Asian pear and apples on the tongue. It’s dry, medium-bodied Pinot with great acidity and a lengthy finish. This is a wine that would pair well with a lot of dishes, but grilled asparagus, oysters on the half-shell and veal scaloppini with cream sauce come immediately to mind.