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Pinot Grigio, I Love You Just the Way You Are

Marketers have led Americans to believe that Pinot Grigio is a white grape. It's actually a red variety.
Marketers have led Americans to believe that Pinot Grigio is a white grape. It's actually a red variety.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

"Italy's finest white wine," reads the copy in an advertisement for Pinot Grigio that appeared in an issue of New York published in November 1980, "magnificently dry with a beautiful straw-like color, Cavit Pinot Grigio has opened to rave reviews from wine critics. If you love white wine, discover this new wine taste produced in northern Italy along the slopes of the Dolomites... Destined to become Italy's most popular wine."

Since fine wine importers first began aggressively marketing Pinot Grigio to American consumers in the late 1970s, their copywriters painted the wine as an approachable and refreshing white wine.

The decade of the 1970s marked a new era in our nation's awareness and consumption of wine. As Eric Asimov wrote in this week's New York Times (in his obituary of wine writer Frank Prial, whose ground-breaking column for the newspaper helped to inform the palate of our parents' generation and beyond), "Postwar prosperity was providing many Americans with the means to travel and sample fine food and wine abroad; Julia Child offered French culture on plates; the sleepy California wine industry had been jolted by the dynamic Robert Mondavi."

Marketers were keenly aware of this emerging demographic and they were swift in their efforts to create new wine categories for a new wave of wine lovers. (Virginia Slims, anyone?)

By the time the "Me" decade came to a close, Pinot Grigio, the "white wine," had been imprinted on our nation's collective consciousness.

And the legacy of those years continues: Today, by antonomasia, the grape name Pinot Grigio has come to denote easy-drinking white wine.

The celebrity endorsements of the variety -- from Mariah Carey to Drew Barrymore -- are examples of the way Pinot Grigio -- vinified as a white wine -- has been woven into the fabric of our consumerized society.

It's not the first time we've said it here before: Pinot Grigio is actually a red grape. And while we know it today as an inexpensive and reliable white quaffer (cultivated even here in Texas), winemakers in Europe (and some in California) continue to vinify it as a copper-colored and nuanced fine wine.

One of my favorite bottlings of Pinot Grigio, the Dessimis (pronounced dehs-SEEM-iss) by Vie di Romans from Friuli (northeastern Italy), has recently returned to our market.

It's not cheap: It will set you back about $40 at the Houston Wine Merchant and Spec's. But it's worth every penny.

I tasted the wine a few weeks ago: Still very tannic and youthful in its evolution, its dried fruit aromas gave way to ripe stone fruit flavors in the mouth, alternating between savory and intensely mineral notes. It's a nuanced and elegant wine, not to be quaffed hastily.

I've had the fortune to taste old vintages of this single-vintage bottling stretching back to the 1990s. If, like me, you cap your cellaring bottle price at $50, this is a great wine to lay down for a few years. It will only get better over time (if you open it now, be sure to leave a glass or two in the bottle and taste the wine again the next day and you'll get a sense of how beautifully it will evolve with age).

Pinot Grigio, you've come a long way, baby. But I still love you just the way you are.



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