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What’s wrong with pinot grigio?

Yesterday was pinot grigio day. You’d be forgiven if you missed it due to more pressing concerns. Perhaps you were watching paint dry or reorganizing your sock drawer. As grape appreciation days go, it doesn’t warrant the hoopla routinely afforded to sauvignon blanc, malbec or riesling.

Those grapes and many others have vocal and devoted admirers. Pinot grigio has a vocal and devoted opposition.

Wine snobs love to hate it.

In many ways, pinot grigio is the Nickelback of the world of wine. The massively popular white has long been criticized for bland, formulaic and ruining wine. It’s been written off as the water of wine, yet sales continue to boom across Canada and around the world.

Consumers tend to enjoy its simple, refreshing lemony character. And its affordable price.

Connoisseurs, however, will be quick to tell anyone who will listen how much better pinot gris is compared to pinot grigio. The same grape variety, a mutation of pinot noir which is believed to have originated in France, will produce richer and riper styles of wine in places where there is a longer, warmer and drier growing season. Pinot gris from Alsace, Germany or the Okanagan often has more depth of flavour, more texture and length.

Italian pinot grigio was developed in response to the weather conditions. Italian winemakers must pick early to prevent losing the crop to rot. The result is a white wine with less flavour and more acidity.

Cooler pockets in Italy, such as Alto Adige, Valle d’Aosta and Friuli Venezia Giulia, can produce more compelling and flavourful styles of pinot grigio. But there isn’t much incentive for producers in Italy to make stellar examples of pinot grigio if they cannot sell them at a premium price. (Although the recent creation of the delle Venezie appellation, Europe’s largest, shows there’s increasing desire to raise the profile of pinot grigio).

Well-made pinot grigios can be a little grassy, but not as intense as some sauvignon blancs. They can offer fruit flavours, notably ripe yellow apple and pear, that are a better match for fish or seafood dishes than richer, riper styles of chardonnay.

Bright, refreshing and affordable pinot grigios might not be cause for celebration, but no matter what the wine snobs say, they have value and offer enjoyment to a remarkable number of consumers.

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