Skip to main content

The question

I love Italian white wine but can’t stand pinot grigio. What am I missing?

The answer

Not much, assuming you mean run-of-the-mill, inexpensive pinot grigio, which is essentially the wine-world equivalent of soft-serve vanilla ice cream without sprinkles, chocolate sauce or even a crunchy cone.

The grape variety is, as you seem to imply, hugely popular. Problem is, much of it is produced in bulk, factory-farmed and picked before the grapes have had the chance to fully ripen, which makes it economical to produce at a decent price. Many people enjoy light, crisp, inoffensive white wine that goes down clean, much the way many beer drinkers love insipid industrial lagers that are made partly out of rice rather than purely out of superior barley. Different strokes, as they say.

I also think that pinot grigio has been assisted by the fact that it’s easy and satisfying to pronounce, even for non-Italians. If Coca-Cola had been called “zweigelt” or “grüner veltliner,” I suspect it would still be nothing more than an Atlanta drug-store tonic, but that’s just speculation.

There happens to be a lot of more serious pinot grigio out there that’s worth seeking out if you don’t mind spending more than, say, $16 a bottle. Look in particular for wines from Italy bearing the geographical designation “Alto Adige” or “Sudtirol,” an Alpine region where some of the best are made.

Incidentally, “pinot gris” is the same grape but can taste remarkably more interesting because producers that employ the French terminology tend to farm to a higher standard. British Columbia, Oregon and New Zealand specialize in this style, and you can find much more opulent and sublime versions from Alsace in northern France.

But I applaud your fondness for other Italian white varieties, almost all of which deserve as much attention as pinot grigio. As in: friulano, garganega (the grape of the Soave district), greco, falanghina, verdicchio, vernaccia and vermentino. No other country possesses more indigenous grape varieties than Italy. And Italian white wine, formerly a bad joke, has been one of the most vibrant and exciting wine categories of the past 20 years.

Beppi Crosariol will once again be participating as The Globe’s wine expert on both the July 1-11, 2019, Globe and Mail Seine River (Paris and Normandy) Cruise and the July 28-Aug. 7, 2019, Globe and Mail Portugal River Cruise. For details on how to reserve your cabin visit

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.