Pinot Grigio Continues to Rise

The new Delle Venezie DOC sets a high standard for Italy’s biggest white
January 5, 2019 Updated: January 5, 2019

Italy makes more wine than any other country. But for years, the prolific rustic bottlings of red and white table wine diverted attention from the country’s exceptional winemaking potential. Big, bold, ageable wines from Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grapes turned that around for reds. Italian whites have had to fight for legitimacy—especially the most exported Italian varietal, pinot grigio.

Pinot grigio came to the United States in the late ’70s, and by the mid-90s was one of the most imported varietals from Italy. The refreshing acidity served as counterpoint to the oaky, buttery Chardonnays dominating the American market—and fatiguing many palates. During the U.S. importation boom of the ’90s, Italian producers took measures to meet demands, including cultivating less favorable vines in the plains and on valley floors. Pinot grigio production was up, but quality was down, resulting in many thin, watery offerings that gave the wine a bit of a bad rap. It’s steadily been working to win back hearts and minds since.

The culmination of this effort lies in the newly formed Consortium Delle Venezie DOC, now presiding over the northeastern Italian wine production of pinot grigio. Created in 2017, the Delle Venezie DOC fulfilled the need for an entity to manage, promote, and protect the production of pinot grigio, all of which now ships out of the region certified as DOC. That’s good for further enhancing the reputation of pinot grigio, and good for the consumer, who’s assured the wine meets quality standards.

The Biggest Pinot Grigio Vineyard in the World

Pinot grigio grapes
The pinot grigio grape, a mutation of pinot noir, varies from gray-blue to brownish-pink to green, sometimes all on the same bunch. (Courtesy of Italian Trade Agency)

The new appellation accounts for 85 percent of Italy’s production of pinot grigio, spread over 60,500 acres across the regions of Trentino, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Diverse terroir, influenced by the Alps, Adriatic Sea, and Garda Lake, create a climate ideal for preserving the acidity of the grapes, an important and expected characteristic of the wine.

The Delle Venezie DOC redefined quality standards for each production phase of wines produced under its purview. Stricter specifications eliminated lower-quality vineyard plots and reduce the permitted yield of wine per hectare (by 26 hectoliters), enforcing that only the best grape bunches make it to press. At the end of new production chain, each bottle passes through a professional oenologist’s evaluation and receives the Italian government seal.

Bottling halted on wines regulated under the former governing body, signified by the IGT label, on Aug. 1, 2018, and now all bottles produced in the region and labeled “DOC Delle Venezie” meet the new qualitative parameters.

Don’t Shelve It!

Pinot grigio is intended to be consumed young. Enjoy within the first year or two of the vintage, paired with vegetarian dishes and appetizers; mushrooms; fish and shellfish, particularly mussels; French fries; and of course, sweltering days. These 2017 offerings, bottled under the new appellation, are worth a try.

Astoria Alisia ($12): Apple, pear, and straw on the nose, characteristic acidity with harmonious white fruits on the palate and crisp finish.

Corte Moschina Granetto ($14): Strong nose of peaches and apple and notes of the same, and hints of grass on the palate. Fresh, almost dainty acidity.

Enoitalia Gemma di Luna ($13): Another intense nose, this one of juicy apples and a pleasingly crisp, harmonic finish also reminiscent of apple.

SIDEBOX: Pinot Grigio Primer

Pinot grigio and pinot gris are interchangeable, as they are the same grape, but it’s useful to keep in mind that pinot grigio refers to a dry, crisp Italian style while pinot gris suggests the fruity French style. The grape varies from gray-blue to brownish-pink to green, sometimes all on the same bunch, and is a mutation of pinot noir.

The quintessential pinot grigios of Italy are lauded for simplicity, clean and zesty yet carrying personality and sometimes even nuance. The best are mineral-driven and typically exhibit light pear, apple, and peach notes, along with citrus and that signature acidity. Such delicate noses and palates are well suited to their light to medium body.

Italian pinot grigio is produced in stainless steel tanks and does not undergo malolactic fermentation, which preserves the wine’s acidity.

Amanda Burrill sees through an adventurous lens, typically focused on culinary and travel. Her education includes a bachelor’s in archaeology, a master’s in journalism, a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, and wine and spirits credentials earned while living in Paris. She is a U.S. Navy veteran, Ironman triathlete, high-alpine mountaineer, and injury connoisseur who ruminates on