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Pinot Grigio Nation

Contrary to popular belief, Pinot Grigio is actually a red grape. This photo was taken a few weeks ago in Italy by winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci.
Contrary to popular belief, Pinot Grigio is actually a red grape. This photo was taken a few weeks ago in Italy by winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci.
Photo by Fabrizio Bindocci (via Montalcino Report).

"Soon as we walk through the door," sang Mariah Carey in her 2008 hit "Migrate," "Fellas be grabbin' at us like yo / Tryin' to get us going off the Patron / We sippin' Grigio... slow."

These lines came to mind last night when the day's umpteenth press release caught my eye from an oversaturated inbox: "Drew Barrymore's Pinot Grigio now available in Houston, TX."

"I wanted to reach out and let you know that Drew Barrymore's new wine label -- Barrymore Wines -- is now available in your area!" wrote the author. "Barrymore Pinot Grigio is a lively white wine that is easy to pair with a wide array of foods -- from classic Italian and French dishes to contemporary Asian and Mediterranean fare." (If I only had a dime for every "lively white wine" that pairs well with everything from "classic Italian" to "contemporary Asian and Mediterranean"!)

Ever since it was introduced to Americans nearly 35 years ago, Italian Pinot Grigio -- vinified as a white as opposed to red wine -- has reshaped our nation's vinous landscape. By means of antonomasia, it has become synonymous with easy-drinking white wine (the same way that Xerox denotes photocopy, Kleenex means tissue paper or Fedex, as a verb, signifies to ship via express courier).

Delving a little deeper into the ethos that shapes and informs Barrymore's new wine, I can't say that I disagree with her or disapprove of her no-nonsense approach to winemaking.

When Food & Wine asked her (in its September 2012 issue), "Why did you pick Pinot Grigio for the launch of Barrymore Wines?" she answered: "I've always ordered Pinot Grigio in restaurants, because it's a surefire way to get a wine that's not too buttery, too acidic or overly fruity...It has this beautiful, mild fruit that I love. It's dangerously easy-drinking."

At our house, we have a saying: If you can't be with the wine you love, love the Pinot Grigio. Barrymore calls the grape variety "dangerous." In fact, the wine is (as she also points out) a safe bet when you're faced with limited wine-drinking options (like when I visit my estranged father in Highland, Indiana, a landscape straight out of a John Mellencamp song and armpit of America). Even in the worst-case scenario (like Giovanni's in nearby Munster, Indiana), the Pinot Grigio brand will deliver an innocuous but fresh and clean wine that may not have the acidity I crave but at least will help me get my drink on.

We sippin' Grigio... slow...

When vinified in a traditional Italian style, Pinot Grigio can deliver a lightly-colored red wine. Not rosé (rosato in Italian) but rather ramato or "copper colored," like the 2010 Pinot Gris by California winery Wind Gap.
When vinified in a traditional Italian style, Pinot Grigio can deliver a lightly-colored red wine. Not rosé (rosato in Italian) but rather ramato or "copper colored," like the 2010 Pinot Gris by California winery Wind Gap.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

From an epistemological perspective, it's only fitting that few fans of Pinot Grigio actually know what it is: A red grape (see above) that can produce some of Italy's (and France's) most noble wines.

"Not too buttery, too acidic or overly fruity..." In other words, lacking style, character or substance -- it's middle-of-the-road wine. Honestly, I'm okay with that because the same freedom that allows my countrymen to listen to Mariah Carey and sip their "Grigio" also affords me my skin-contact Pinot Gris from California.

To quote another American icon, whose middle-of-the-road products are also muzak to my ears, ain't that America...

Look for my review of the wine next week...



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