Wine: Pinot Grigio shows more versatility than expected

IRONICALLY, while few commentators have kind words for pinot grigio, its UK sales have risen so fast that they now account for some 40 per cent of all Italian wines sold here.

Since you should never argue with the customer, PG has been selected as the focus for a Spectrum ‘seal of approval’ analysis.

These awards assess examples of wines that are available in the high street to pinpoint reliability, value and typicity. As before, there are two classes – below £6 and £7 to £10. Before the results, let’s remind ourselves about what we expect from pinot grigio.

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Most versions drunk here are light, undemanding (even unadventurous), quaffable whites from Italy with gentle melon and pear fruit. Elsewhere, the variety can be taken more seriously (often called pinot gris to give gravitas), creating richer, fuller and often sweeter wines with musky touches of honey. Alsace does this style well and so do Oregon and parts of New Zealand.

With entry-point Italian versions, conventional wisdom suggests that good examples come from Trentino, where high altitudes and acidity combine with low yields to produce ‘mountain wines’ that escape the blandness of more southerly PGs. Those good points are certainly evident in 2011 Finest Pinot Grigio (£6, until 30 October, Tesco). Although less aromatic than others, this wine is sharper and crisper and won many friends with its grapefruit and lemon acidity and overall depth and substance; its long finish contains just a hint of pear.

The other star, from a little further east, was 2011 Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie (£4.48, Asda), which is rounder, riper and smoother than Tesco’s. An award-winner in the International Wine and Spirits Competition, it integrates ripe apple and melon flavours but adds a whisper of concluding sweetness.

In this lower price category, honours followed the form book with north-eastern Italy comfortably beating off competition from other regions. Freshness gave the edge to Trentino, but Asda’s Venezie example has both smoothness and roundedness. But this area is large and its wines are variable.

The under £10 class saw more intricate wines, and top among the Italians was the 2011 Pinot Grigio Alto Mincio (£9.99, M&S), from La Prendina Estate, just south of Lake Garda. It opens with ripe and complex aromas and follows with vibrant greengage and lime fruit and a touch of minerality but combines this oomph with a soft and relatively rounded texture to give a restrained yet attractive sophistication.

Pinot grigio plantings have been introduced elsewhere, and candidates from Australasia caught our tasters’ attention. The styles, however, were varied. The 2011 McGuigan Black Label Pinot Grigio (£6.99, Morrisons) was unexpectedly crisp, clean and refreshing and the lightest in the tasting. Flavours were predominantly grapefruit with a backdrop of orange and peach.

Some New Zealand producers have taken a different route. The 2011 Villa Maria Pinot Grigio (£7.99, Majestic) uses the East Coast appellation – grapes from both the North and South Islands – and has created a PG with a degree of sweetness. The result is more like a pinot gris, with mellow pear and orange flavours, length, smoothness and depth, all enlivened with a prickle of acidity.

Increasing the price saw increases in complexity and diversity, especially in Italian pinot grigio, but sharper versions can come from Australia and off-dry ones from New Zealand, suggesting there’s more versatility in the grape than expected.

2008 Songlines Estates Bylines Chardonnay Hunter Valley, Australia, 13.5%

This is a nicely made, slightly floral chardonnay with just the right amount of oak to give a butter and vanilla backdrop and a creamy mouthfeel but not to overshadow the tropical fruit flavours or the citrus-centred balancing acidity. (£7.34, Exel)

2010 Errazuriz Estate Reserva Carmenere Aconcagua Valley, Chile, 13.5% 
This is a typical red from the deeply coloured grape that has adapted so well to Chile. Its black cherry, damson and plum-stone flavours give way to a characteristic chocolate finish, enhanced with black pepper and balanced tannin. (£9.99,Peckhams)