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With summer heat in full swing, wine lovers are reaching for their most refreshing bottles to get them through the dog days of mid-July. While there’s no shortage of styles that can slice right through thick summer humidity, or offer a great counterpoint to summer salads and BBQ feasts, pinot grigio occupies a special place in our hearts (and our wine racks) come summertime.
Of course, individual taste is a factor – and nobody’s saying you can’t crack open a hearty Barolo in the middle of August. But if refreshment is what you’re after in your summer wine selections, there are a few characteristics you’ll want to keep in mind: High acidity, a lighter body, and a dry flavour profile.
Sam Fritz Tate, the sommelier for Canadian wine retailer WineOnline, has another one to add to the list.
“I think the key word is ‘uncomplicated’,” he says – and pinot grigio falls squarely into that category.
“It’s not a wine you really have to think a lot about – it’s just delicious and refreshing. During patio season, for a lot of people who want a great-value bottle of white to crush, that’s what you want – something that’s delicious and refreshing, with a little bit of fruit and a little bit of intensity.”
Pinot grigio has these crisp, easy-drinking qualities in spades.
Also known as pinot gris, the white grape variety originally hailing from Burgundy is now grown in winemaking regions all over the globe. The grape itself is a versatile one, giving way to wines that range from sweet to fruity to mineral-forward depending on the winemaking style and region.
But for a thirst-quenching summer wine, the Italian style of pinot grigio – popularized by winemakers in the northern regions of Alto Adige, Trentino, Lombardy and Veneto – is the undisputed champion. Early grape harvests and mountainous terrain emphasize the grape’s acidity, zeroing in on those dry, light-bodied, ultra-refreshing qualities that make for a great summer wine pick.
Pinot gris and pinot grigio both have their roots in the same white grape varietal; the difference in name comes from the translation of the word “grey” from French to Italian. But, as Fritz Tate explains, what you get in the glass couldn’t be more different:
A fuller-bodied, sweeter French style originally hailing from Alsace, pinot gris offers a more fruit-forward nose, a smooth texture and a more “oily” mouthfeel.
“It’s a waxy, medium to full bodied, quite aromatically intense wine. It’s really beautiful and I love it, but it’s not for everybody,” Fritz Tate says.
This crisper Italian style boasts a light-to-medium body, higher acidity and, often, more mineral-like characteristics.
Fritz Tate describes it as “medium-plus acid with pleasant stone fruit and a beautiful hint of wine flowers – it’s a much more easygoing grape varietal.”
Fritz Tate warns that not all cheap pinot grigios are created equal, with the category seeing tons of mass-produced entries in recent years.
“Generally, the more mineral-driven wines with good freshness and natural acidiy are much harder to make. It’s easier to add sugar and preservatives,” he says.
Even if there isn’t added sugar, a poorly-balanced wine without enough acidity to counteract the wine’s natural sugars will feel cloyingly sweet and heavy. Fritz Tate likens it to eating a perfectly ripe banana with a little bit of natural acidity, versus eating a fruit that’s overripe.
If you’re looking for a quality pinot grigio that won’t break the bank, Fritz-Tate recommends starting with selections from Italy’s Veneto region: “They tend to have more complexity and be a little weightier,” he says. “It provides great complexity at an incredible price point.”
Fritz Tate recommends the 2019 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC from Geografico as a fantastic inexpensive pinot grigio from Veneto that manages to show off some of the style and region’s best features. “It’s got that minerality, that freshness, something that’s more innately refreshing,” he says.
On top of that, it’s a steal right now at $15.99 per bottle.
“It’s so hard to get great wine at a great price point in Ontario. I think this is a super cool opportunity to get a wine that, at this quality level, should be [much higher],” Fritz Tate says.
Tasting notes: Straw yellow in color with greenish hues, Pinot Grigio is a light-medium bodied wine. On the nose it shows immediate forward flowery bouquet and fruit, especially apple and peach, holding a firm and fruity palate. Its crisp acidity balances well with the soft character recommending it as a pleasant and easy to drink wine.
$15.99 per bottle ($2 off). Buy at WineOnline.ca.