Grape Expectations: Plain - but so popular

Related tags Pinot grigio Cabernet sauvignon Chardonnay Wine

The fourth in our series of articles on grape varieties turns to pinot grigio - a grape that divides opinion like no other.This is the fourth in a...

The fourth in our series of articles on grape varieties turns to pinot grigio - a grape that divides opinion like no other.

This is the fourth in a series of features focusing on grape varieties. I am examining several of the major grapes to see how they can benefit sales of wine in pubs.

There is nothing worse than going into a pub, ordering a bottle of red wine to share for the next hour and getting something so heavy it puts you off for life. In the same way when a customer wants a fruity, crisp white wine, it is important to make sure that is what they are given. The full extent of the opportunity that exists with wine is only just being seen.

It is all about providing the right wine for the right occasion and hopefully this series of articles will help strike this balance.

Having already looked at cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and shiraz, this month it is the turn of pinot grigio - a grape that divides opinion like no other. Hated by the boffins, loved by the retailers it is currently the most fashionable wine in pubs.

Adam Withrington, Drinks reporter

  • Tim Atkin MW - "What's the world's worst grape variety? Readers will know about my loathing of Pinot Grigio (the Dire Straits of the wine world)." (The Observer Aug 22, 2004)

Oz Clarke - "As Pinot Grigio it [Pinot Gris] produces dry yet boring whites." (Oz Clarke's Australian Wine Companion)

Whether you are an actor or a grape variety these are not exactly what you would call good reviews. Put it like this, if Pinot Grigio were an actor, it would be Vin Diesel: loved by the masses, loathed by the critics.

It is the strangest of grapes - it is about as fashionable as you can get when it comes to pub goers out on a Friday night - or any night for that matter. But for those who write about wine on a weekly basis it's like a talentless fraud with delusions of grandeur.

The whole issue surrounding Pinot Grigio is a little confusing. It should be simple - as Jancis Robinson MW puts it in her Oxford Companion to Wine: "Pinot Grigio is the common Italian name for the French grape variety Pinot Gris." However, despite only being a regional name for Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio is the star. How many customers out in your pub ask for a Pinot Gris? How many even know that Pinot Grigio is simply a different name for Pinot Gris? The truth is that despite being responsible for some fantastic wines Pinot Gris is being outgunned by its Italian counterpart.

The reason for this is that most Pinot Gris is unsuitable for the on-trade. In its most traditional form, grown in Alsace, Pinot Gris grapes are picked very late, and they produce a deep-coloured, complex, fruity taste.

The Italians pick much earlier and therefore the wine tends to be lighter, crisper, dryer and much less complex. There are wonderful examples of Pinot Gris out there, but when it comes to pubs the demand is for consistent, undemanding taste and Pinot Grigio delivers this in spades.

The bland label

However, despite its popularity, the Italian superstar is seen as hugely boring by wine writers and wine buffs alike.

If you search around hard enough you can find some really fantastic bottles - but likewise there is some real dross out there, with the majority of it being bland and uninteresting.

In the same way as your average beer drinker will choose lager over real ale, your average wine drinker will want something that has a neutral and unchallenging taste. A recent Wine Intelligence report showed that many pub chains wanted wines that were neutral and unchallenging for their venues.

There is nothing wrong with this - if consumers want something unchallenging but refreshing then that is what they should be given. But what is important is to recognise that stocking four or five different varieties of the stuff, just because it is popular, would be a mistake. The strategy to take is to shop around and try and find one of those really exceptional examples of Pinot Grigio. They do exist and if you do find one your sales really could fly.

  • USA:​ Pinot Gris has never been a widely planted grape here but now Californian winemakers have seen the commercial potential of Pinot Grigio they have got the bit between their teeth and, according to Jonathan Pedley MW, are "starting to plant it like crazy".

Germany:​ Germany has a long tradition in Pinot Gris - known as Rulander - but recently German winemakers have also cottoned onto Grigioís popularity and are changing the name on the bottles.

Italy:​ Pinot Grigio is a strange one when it comes to looking at it globally because by strictest definition it only comes from one country only and that is Italy. Grown in the north-east of the country, in areas such as the mountainous Trentino region, it arguably drives the bulk of Italian wine sales

Hungary:​ According to Jonathan Pedley MW, Hungary has a long tradition in Pinot Gris and recently has started to release some interesting "cheap and cheerful" Pinot Grigios into the market.

Australia:​ While most of the wines from this grape variety are named Pinot Gris, some Australian wineries are starting to use the name Grigio, no doubt aware of its greater marketing potential. Most of wines are from cold or cool regions such as Tasmania and Mount Benson.

Pinot Gris

There are some winemakers who still stand by Pinot Gris and will not succumb to the commercial temptations of growing the grape in a "Grigio style". Its traditional home is the Alsace region of France but can also be found in Oregon in the US, in Canada and in New Zealand, where Babich, one of New Zealand's largest family producers, has a particular strong tradition with the grape variety.

Five from Matthew Clark

  • L'Aristocratico Pinot Grigio, Caî Montini, Trentino, Italy

The fruit is sourced from high altitude vineyards in the foothills of the Alps, where the long ripening period produces grapes with more concentrated flavours. Dry, with slightly spicy apple and nectarine fruit flavours and a rich, yet refreshing finish.

Corte Vigna Pinot Grigio, Provincia di Pavia, Italy

Refreshing, dry with delicate floral aromas and displaying a typical crisp finish. The grapes were grown in Lombardy in North-West Italy

Bolla Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, Italy

The grapes were cool-fermented in stainless steel to ensure the wine has a fresh character. Typically dry with a peachy fruit character, slightly richer on the palate than the Corte Vigna wine.

Pamona Cellars Pinot Grigio, Rheinhessen, Germany

Pinot Grigio is commonly called Rulander in Germany, where it has been grown for about 300 years. This example is not quite as dry as the Italians listed above, but still has the refreshing, delicate palate, this time with a floral character.

Vendange Pinot Grigio, California

New to our list this year, this California wine has already gained plenty of followers. Whilst it has the light, floral, minerally, peachy fruit you would expect from a Pinot Grigio, the palate has a more generous nature, typical of Californian wines.

Matthew Clark on Pinot Grigio

Just a handful of years ago Pi

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