Friday Rant–Pinot Grigio

For a while now I never really “got” Pinot Grigio. I have tasted the wine on countless different occasions and, well, I have always been than whelmed. So, when we received a bottle of 2012 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio from a couple we had over for dinner a few weeks ago, I just tossed it into the cellar–I did not even bother entering it into Cellar Tracker (which is rare for me). I had no idea when or where I would drink the thing.

A few days later, I read a post on Pinot Grigio by my blogger buddy, Talk-a-Vino. The post was a one of his fantastic quizzes based on a single variety. One of the questions hit me like a laser:

“Name [the] Italian Pinot Grigio wine which is considered a golden standard of Pinot Grigio in the United States (people really ask for it by name).”

Since there was only one Pinot Grigio I could name (the Santa Margherita) I figured it was the answer (it was), but I had no idea it was a “gold standard”

As often happens (but rarely materializes), I was struck with an idea for a post:

I decided I would crack the bottle of Santa Margherita and let the utterly vapid liquid full my mouth. I would quickly realize that there was next to nothing remotely redeemable about the wine, make a few snarky comments about Italian wine in general and be done.

I even had a preliminary title: “Pinot Grigio–I just don’t get it.”

When I thought about writing this article, I knew that Pinot Grigio pretty much sucked, which was my entire premiss. I have little doubt that I never really had a good or even passable Pinot Grigio, but that might be irrelevant–I assume that “better” PG is also pricier and I just don’t think the better juice could be that much better. I have not had a rant in a good long while, and I could not think about a better subject. So last week, I went down into the cellar to grab the bottle and throw it in the fridge before I left for work.

That was the plan.

One problem: I could not find the bottle.

Those of you that have seen the “cellar” might not be all that surprised that I could not find a bottle of wine down there, but there certainly is a method to the madness. I have little doubt that if my wife (or anyone else) asked me to find a randomly selected bottle from my Cellar Tracker list, I would find it in under two minutes.

But I could not find the Santa Margherita.

I knew that I had placed it in the area where I keep all the wines that should be consumed in the near term, but it was definitely not there. So I did something I am normally loathe to do:

I asked my wife.

It is not because I fear interaction with my lovely wife, quite the contrary. I do try and avoid having conversations with her about my cellar, however. It seems as though whenever I mention a problem having to do with the overstuffed cellar, she invariably ends up “suggesting” that I buy far too much wine and I would not have such a problem if I would stop acquiring bottles.

Which is true.


I decided to ask her nonetheless. It turns out that she took the bottle when she went out to dinner with some of her friends just a few days prior. She mentioned that she saw my face when we received the bottle and figured that I would not miss it. Normally, she would be right, but in this case, I had plans for that bottle! For a moment, I thought I would get all indignant and tell how she can’t just go into the basement and grab any bottle she pleases. She needs to consult with me first….

Then I realized this would only cause her to go downstairs and find one of my most coveted bottles and use it to deglaze a pan.

So I shut up.

Instead, I did something else equally stupid: I went to the local PLCB and picked up a bottle for $24 (later I learned that it was $18 almost everywhere else on the planet–yeah, the PLCB cares about consumers).

Eventually, the bottle of wine that I originally got for free, but ended up costing me $24 found its way into the fridge, preparing to sacrifice itself for a rant.

After waiting a bit for the Frigidaire to work its magic, I pulled the synthetic closure and sloshed some into my favorite glass. Initially, the wine was a tad bit too warm.

I thought.20130830-091927.jpg

There was an interesting nose of banana and coconut and on the palate there was an inviting acidity that screamed “food”. I thought “Hmmpf, this might not be all that bad!”

I threw the wine back in the fridge to put a tad more chill on it. After a bit, I tried it again.

Close to flavorless. Now that’s the Pinot Grigio I was expecting.

That got me thinking (never a good thing). Most whites are served far too cold, and I have never had a Pinot Grigio that was served anywhere near 40 degrees (4 degrees Celsius) let alone 50 (10 Celsius). I wonder if those hordes of Pinot Grigio drinkers would still like the wine if it were served at a temperature that they could actually taste the wine?

I would venture to guess “No.”

As for me? I will still likely pan Pinot Grigio, but perhaps not as fervently as before. I would say the Santa Margherita was Good, perhaps Very Good (85-87 Points), but I am not rushing out to buy any more (even for $18).

I guess after having quite a few bottles of the French-style Pinot Gris, I just think that is a much better expression of the grape.

But then we all know that I am a French snob….


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Rant, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Friday Rant–Pinot Grigio

  1. I’ve always struggled with Pinot Grigio. I can’t seem to find one that doesn’t taste like a fortified Capri Sun. Oregon Pinot Gris has been knocking my socks off lately, though. Oregon seems to have found a middle ground / sweet spot between Italian and Alsatian style. I’ve hunted down and ordered Brandbourg Pinot Gris three times now. Next time, I’ll just get a case. Salud!!


  2. talkavino says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Jeff! The subject of the effect of the serving temperature on any wine is one of the geekiest in the wine world. I agree that a lot of white wines are consumed too cold, which kills the flavor – and I agree that a lot of people who would try their favorite wines at a normal temperature (chilled, but not over-chilled), wouldn’t be very happy. But same as you, I’m still not going to start buying Italian Pinot Grigio all of a sudden, at $18 or at $10…


  3. I am not a big defender of PG, but I will say that SM is NOT the gold standard. Yes, many people think it is, but really it would be like calling Bud the gold standard of American beer. If you know where to look (Alto Adige, in this case), there is better stuff available. I had a very good one from Castelfeder.

    Totally agree about the temp issue.


  4. For me, wines are like people. I tend to find something to like even in the flawed ones, as if it’s my duty to find the good in everyone. The chef-with-the-more-discerning-palate, however, says, “Blech,” to Pinto Grigio. I’ve never brought one home.

    P.S., Jeff, you get an A for wit, (I actually read the whole post instead of skimming and skipping to the good parts) and also an A for smart-moves, in shutting up about your wife taking a bottle out of the cellar.


  5. PinotNinja says:

    I’m so glad to hear that its not just me with the Pinot Grigio. I’ve watched friends order it up on the regular as their crisp hot summer day wine and I can barely gag the stuff down no matter how desperate I am for a glass of wine. I’ve always wondered what’s wrong with my palate, but maybe this is actually a case of its you, not me.


  6. winingdaily says:

    I’m with you all, I’ve always seen PG as a ‘starter white’. I much prefer Pinot Gris (ESPECIALLY Oregon – seems everything they touch is magic) and had far more interesting PG’s than SM at an Alto Adige Grand Tasting in the Spring… @armchairsommelier – “fortified Capri Sun” – LMAO!


  7. I’m no big fan of Pinot Grigio in general, but before you write Italy off entirely, I would recommend trying the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio (of course, not ice cold!). Lean, dry, full of granite. Anything but “fortified Capri Sun”.


  8. Stefano says:

    In my view, Santa Margherita is one of the blandest, most mass produced expressions of Italian PG out there, so if you “kind of liked it” I wonder what you would think if you tried some of the good ones! 🙂
    Regarding service temperature for whites, I am with you – I made the same point in my recent review of the Ammiraglia Vermentino (for which aromas in my view peaked at about 53-55F).
    Have a great long weekend!


    • Well, I am not sure that I “kind of liked it” but I would love to try some “good” Pinot Gris” but at what cost? If we are talking $30-40…..


      • Stefano says:

        I see what you are saying because I am not a fan of that grape variety either, but there are options out there to drink better ones. St Michael Eppan’s Sanct Valentin (which I reviewed a few months back) is in my view very good and retails for about $30. The same producer also makes a less expensive version called “Anger” (of all names!) which is much better than the Santa Margherita and retails for about $19. Maso Poli makes another good one that also sells for about $19, Schiopetto has one that sells for about $25 and Blason’s Casa in Bruma at $11 is one of the cheapest yet solid options. All these are availale in the US – don’t know about PA though.


  9. Josh says:

    I am also a Grigio hater and agree with you about drinking white too cold. Your post reminded me of a recent twitter rant of mine. A few weeks ago there was an article getting passed around trumpeting the amazing potential of Pinot Blanc to become Michigan’s “Signature grape” whatever the hell that means. What promoted the rant was the reasons why these “experts” (all marketers and PR) thought varietal PB was something Michigan should produce more of. They praised its crispness, quaffability and food-friendliness.

    In other words the praised it for being BORING. They want it to be Michigan’s Pinot Grigio. Fantastic Riesling? Not good enough. Pinot Noir that is getting better and better? No. Making better Cab Franc or Gewürztraminer? Nope. WE NEED A BORING WINE to represent our state. Quit blending it away with stuff that actually has a lot of flavor. That’s just a waste of perfectly dull wine


  10. d d b says:

    I’m not a fan of NZ pinot gris generally. I did try an Esk Valley recently that had flavour and interest, but I tend to think of the variety as Sauvignon Blanc with all the good bits taken out..


  11. There are some awful PGs out there. I’ll have to try a few of the French Pinot Gris to explore the difference…as long as it is served at the proper temperature.


  12. ALO2071 says:

    Reblogged this on ThroughTheVineyards and commented:
    I typically prefer Sauvignon Blancs but the Santa Margherita is an interesting marketing case study. Read the Drunken Cyclists’ thoughts in his Friday Rant.


  13. Lisa Kaiser says:

    A bit of boring conformity may be plaguing you? I love Pinot Grigios with a bit of pasta and fish…absolutely delish!


  14. vinoinlove says:

    Santa Margherita is a huge winery which produces masses of PG and mainly exports them to the US. I never tried it myself but I would also never buy it. Imagine you buy a low quality French Pinot Noir and then conclude that you don’t like French Pinot Noir. That wouldn’t make sense would it?
    In my opinion your underestimate Pinot Grigio. Maybe try a high quality Pinot Grigio? Not every Pinot Grigio is of low quality… Two of the better producers are St. Michael Appiano and Alois Lageder from South Tyrol.

    In general Pinot Grigio is a grape that is mostly used for mass production. Therefore most Pinot Grigio tastes bad but there are always exceptions.
    Sorry for my long comment, Jeff. I stop now..


    • Hey Julian, thanks for the comment as always! I hear what you are saying and I agree for the most part. However, I would hazard to guess that the vast majority of PG that reaches the U.S, are in the Santa Margherita style (or even worse). I would love to get my hands on what you (and others) would consider “good” but you yourself just said that it is a wine for mass production….


  15. I have had some interesting Grauburgunder lately, the German pinot grigio/gris. They were decidedly fruity, resembled the German Riesling style, just a bit more subtle, less acidity…I can warm up to those. But usually I share your “meh” feelings regarding the grape.


  16. robinskone says:

    Glad I found this post again! I wanted to re-blog it on mine (phyllisdillerandwine) but it’s too long. However, could I excerpt some of it?

    I do not like white wine to begin with. When I took a wine class at the university, I was forced to drink white wine (oh… no…) and actually learned some its characteristics. It has its place, like on the patio during summer evenings. But I have NEVER figured out Pinot Grigio. And, like you, I had a friend bring some by one evening last week. The rest of us were drinking righteous (red) wines, but she preferred her SM. Since there was some left, I’ve been sipping at it over the week trying to figure out what I was missing and I finally got it! Nothing! There is nothing there! It might be that French or Alsatian PGs are superior, but with so much wonderful wine out there, why spend the time and money on this when you could be enjoying something you really like?


    • Sure, feel free to excerpt away! We need you to try some of the truly outstanding white wines, though. Get your hands on some white Burgundy–will change your perspective….


      • robinskone says:

        Actually there are some whites I like. Rhone blends make me happy — especially from Paso Robles. I did have a wonderful white burgundy years ago when visiting a friend in France. Recently joined a wine group and being forced to try new wines (sigh!). But Pinot Gris? Not worth the effort, methinks.


      • Good to hear you have not written off whites altogether!


  17. janowrite says:

    Do you still feel the same way about PG? I find I like it these days, particularly when it’s warm out, and I usually get the Mezzacorona or the Bella Sera. I can’t add anything very educated about palate, etc. – I just like them. If you have recommendations, delighted to try …

    Liked by 1 person

    • My views on Pinot Grigio have not changed all that much, as many of the wines that are available in the States remain rather tasteless. On the other hand, I have tried some fabulous PGs that show that there is potential there (but goes largely untapped by the large producers).

      Liked by 1 person

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