Try a crisp white wine this spring
Italy’s pinot grigio stems from pinot gris, a white grape from Burgundy, France. During the 1300s, the grape made its way to Alsace and then other parts of Europe, including Switzerland and Germany, later arriving in Italy, where it was given the name pinot grigio. James Busby, credited as the “father of Australian wine,” brought the grape to Australia in the 1830s. Eventually it landed in the United States.
Pinot grigio is planted in various regions throughout the northeast area of Italy, and vineyards can usually be found on hillsides and the foothills of the Alps. The regions are the Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, Alto Adige, and Lombardy. From its foundation in northern Italy, the grape has become the most popular white wine in Italy and the most popular imported white wine in the United States.
Although pinot grigio has been available in this country since the 1960s, it was an unfamiliar varietal until 1979 when Tony Terlato, a young importer of Italian wines, flew to Italy in search of the “next great white wine.” He believed that, as Americans’ appreciation and knowledge of fine wines developed and as the food industry became increasingly sophisticated, there would be a demand for a complex, high quality white wine. After tasting numerous wines, he tried a pinot grigio with a medium body, an elegant fruity and spicy aroma, and a crisp taste. He discovered the grape varietal he was looking for and traveled to Alto Adige, one of the premier pinot grigio regions in Italy.
Upon arriving, Terlato sat down at a small restaurant in an inn and ordered 18 bottles of pinot grigio off the wine list. Seeing the wealth of wines at a table with only one diner, the inn’s proprietor joined him. Together they tasted the wines, testing each bottle against a variety of foods. By the end of dinner, both agreed that the best wine at the table was the Santa Margherita pinot grigio.
The inn’s proprietor knew the owners of Santa Margherita, and the next day Terlato met with its president, Count Marzotto. When the importer left that evening, Terlato Wines International (then Paterno Imports) was the sole importer. Back in the United States, he made Santa Margherita a mainstay on wine lists in the nation’s finest restaurants.
Today, pinot grigio is still the number one imported white wine in America, and Terlato has been widely recognized as the father of pinot grigio. For decades, his family has been known for its relentless pursuit of quality. Terlato now represents notable family-owned wine producers from Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Japan, Canada, and California and promotes powerful brands.
Several years ago, the company decided to produce its own distinctive, high-quality pinot grigio in Italy. The Terlato family wanted the wine to be estate-bottled for consistency and to secure fruit from a major viticultural area where grapes would be grown and hand-harvested on low-yield hillside vines. They chose Friuli, an excellent region for white wines. In 2014, Tony Terlato’s son, Bill, finalized a partnership to produce an estate-bottled Terlato Family Vineyards pinot grigio with fruit from the Colli Orientali del Friuli appellation.
Typically, Italian pinot grigio is crisp, dry, and light to medium bodied with acidic lemony flavors. It can take on richer and more aromatic floral characteristics with pear- or melon-like flavors in places such as Alsace and Oregon. In California, it is lighter bodied, acidic, herbal (grassy), and closer to the Italian version.
Excellent pinot grigio wines are produced throughout northeast Italy especially near the Dolomites, Alsace, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, and California.
The following are easily found at your local wine shop or a New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet. Prices range from $10 to $25. Salute!
Terlato Pinot Grigio 2014, Friuli, Italy
The Terlato family literally put pinot grigio on the map here in the United States. This full-bodied wine offers floral aromas with peach, apricot, and pear flavors. Serve with seared tuna and grilled chicken.
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio 2014, Alto Adige, Italy
The pinot most in demand with more than half a million cases imported to the United States every year. It has a crisp fragrance and a fresh, clean taste with subtle hints of sweetness and a long delicate ending. Pair Santa Margherita with salads, scallops, and schnitzel.
Attems Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia 2013, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
The Attems family began to make wine in 1106, with many accolades for this sassy wine. A tangy medium-bodied white full of citrus and white melon aromas with a lively finish. Serve as an aperitif or paired with seafood.
Cavit Pinot Grigio 2014, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
A great widespread value wine (under $10) that is very light and easy to drink with refreshing flavors of citrus and green apple. Works well with asparagus and a good choice for tuna tartare and sushi.
Elena Walch Pinot Grigio 2012, Alto Adige, Italy
Scents of spring bring refreshing flavors of citrus, nuts, and minerals with an elegant acidity. Serve with pasta dishes, grilled fish, and cheese fondue.
Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2013, Alto Adige, Italy
A traditional, delicate, fresh, and fruity full-bodied pinot with pear and apple flavors leading to a crisp, bouncy finish. Perfect alongside grilled vegetables and pasta primavera.
Castello Banfi Le Rime Pinot Grigio 2012, Toscana, Italy
Impressive rich, ripe lemon aromas include hints of pear and white flowers with dry flavors of lime and pineapple and a slight almond finish. An agreeable complement to antipasto, pasta, and light meals.