From the Vineyard: New appellation identifies classic Pinot Grigio

Ever since importer Tony Terlato “discovered” Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio in 1979 and started promoting it in the United States, wines made from the Pinot Gris grape variety in Italy have leapfrogged other varieties to become the second most popular white wine in America. In the process, “Pinot G” has become so popular that growers and wineries have planted it all over the world, including some places they shouldn’t have.

Some of these wines, though made from the Pinot Grigio grape, don’t have the crisp, clean and light flavors that attract many consumers. In particular, wines from warmer areas like California’s Central Valley can be dull, alcoholic and overly fruity. The grape grows best in mild climates like its ancestral home in Italy northeast of Venice in Trento and the Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions.

To ensure consumers know where their wine comes from, the producers (Consorzio) there created a new appellation called DOC Pinot Grigio delle Venezie in 2017. Now, 85 percent of Italian production of Pinot Grigio, the world’s largest producer by volume, is produced in this Triveneto area also known as the tre Venezie. It contains less than 60,000 acres of vines.

The USA absorbs 37 percent of the wine, followed by Great Britain with 27 percent and Germany with 10 percent.

So, it’s now easier to identify Pinot Grigio that share the traditional profile, though admittedly, some people prefer other styles such as the grapes grown in Oregon and Alsace, where they’re generally called Pinot Gris.

By the way, the Santa Margherita remains excellent, but its fame often leads to a higher price than other Pinot Grigio’s that are just as good. Santa Margherita has gone on its own, too, though Terlato found replacements.

Gallo (including Ecco Domani and Bellas Serra) and Cavit are among the biggest importers of modest-priced but pleasant Pinot Grigios from Italy.

Languedoc wines gaining ground
In other word of popular wines from Europe, it’s hardly news that rosé wine is the fastest-growing wine in America, and the higher-priced wines from Provence are excelling in both volume and price.

You hardly ever hear about other wines from Provence, though they make plenty. Now, the less-glamorous region west of Provence is making an increasing impact on the wine world.

Languedoc used to be known for anonymous wines that were often used to beef up northern French wines before climate change improved their climate for grape growing. But imports of AOP wines (roughly, the quality wine) from Languedoc to the American market have grown more than 300 percent by volume and 500 percent by value over the last eight years. They grew 26 percent by volume and 36 percent by cost in 2017 alone—outpacing every major French AOP category except Provence.

Languedoc Rouge and Rosé wines are unsurprisingly leading the market as the climate is similar to Provence. These wines are up 46 percent by volume and 57 percent by value. Languedoc Blanc wines also show impressive increases of 25 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

I must give a particular plug for one Languedoc producer, Gérard Bertrand.

The former star rugby player has a huge hit here in his Côte des Roses rosé in a lovely clear bottle with an elegant glass stopper and rose flower profile embedded in its base. Fancy bottles often mean poor values, but this is an exception. I’ve bought it for as little as $12, but the list price is quite a bit more.

Other Bertrand wines are excellent, too, including the reds and the rosé sparkler we drank with this year’s Easter ham.

Paul Franson lives in Napa Valley, CA.

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