Falanghina is the grape di giorno dontcha know. You can’t move for a wine writer waxing lyrical about how wonderful wine made from this grape is for hot summer days.
“Drink this instead of Pinot Grigio” they say, referring to the Northern Italian style of wine made from the grape known everywhere else as Pinot Gris.
Now, Pinot Gris can be made into all sort of wonderful wines, from dry, clean and crisp to rich and spicy.
It’s the dry end of the spectrum that UK wine drinkers have taken to heart. While many wine buffs will generally curl their nostrils at the very thought of Pinot Grigio, dismissing it as “tasteless” (or worse), it seems that UK consumers just cannot get enough of it.
According to a recent study, Pinot Grigio now accounts for 40% of Italian wine sales in the UK (and Italy is now the second most popular country of choice for UK wine consumers, beaten only by Australia). In fact, this light, dry varietal – wine made predominantly from one grape – is so popular that other countries are producing wines called Pinot Grigio, indicating they are made to a similar Northern Italian style.
Not always successfully.
I tried a bottle of Hennie’s Pure Pinot Grigio 2010 from South Africa that Virgin Wine sent me to review (I’d specifically requested a good Pinot Grigio). “Pin-bright and full of refreshing citrus spritz” says the website. “Smelt of mandarins. Tasted harsh and bitter,” I say.
Even the Californian Gallo Family Pinot Grigio 2009 that someone had brought round was better. Quite gluggable in a confected, alcopops sort of way.
Closer to the mark was the Andrew Peace Estate Collection Pinot Grigio 2010 I’d tasted at the A+ Australian Wine trade tasting. Lemon and pear drops with high acidity and good minerality, it ticked the boxes.
A Safe Bet
It seems many countries are riding on the coattails of a varietal that became popular in the UK because it was cheap. Indeed, Italian Pinot Grigio intensively gown on the plains around Venice and bulk produced is still one of the lowest-cost wines you can buy in a supermarket.
But with pricier bottles of PG on the shelves, a lot of its popularity must be down to recongnition. Everyone’s heard of Pinot Grigio and if you are unsure of what to chose, it can feel like a safe bet.
And some of it is down to taste – or lack thereof. It can be so utterly inoffensive when teeth-crackingly chilled on a hot day. When it doesn’t taste like paint stripper.
But does it have to be this way? Is it possible to find an Italian or Italian-style Pinot Grigio that has some personality? Does going above £10 pay off?
I set out to try a sample from supermarkets, online retailers and an Italian wine specialist, Wimbledon Wine Cellars (though the two wines are not exclusive to them).
Here are my PG tips.
Wine Vs Wine
Wine Society £5.95
From Friuli, this looks like water in the glass, smells of cantaloupe melons but tastes more like cooked apples. Clean, verdant with a tonic water-tasting slightly bitter finish. Mr. Sipswoosh said it made for “pleasant quaffing” but not much more.
Marks & Spencer £8.49
Made by Friulian winemaker Arrigo Bidoli (who’s just joined Naked Wines as a winemaker), this has classic apple and lemon smells & flavours. A racy feel on the tongue with gently rounded fruit and light grass. Nice herby finish. Shot through with minerals. Good.
Marks & Spencer £9.49
Made by La Prendina Estate near Lake Garda, this had the most intense nose of the PG’s I tried. If I’d blind tasted this, I would have thought it an Old World Sauvignon Blanc (perhaps there’s a drop in there?). Grassy and zesty with hints of gooseberry, it had a bit of weight. Very nice but not what I’d expect of a Northern Italian Pinot Grigio. I’d definitely buy this again though.
I expected something watery, and was pleased to find this had a gentle aroma. Twenty minutes after opening, when it had warmed up in my glass, it still had an appealing light apple and lemon smell. Tasted of stewed apples. Bit of minerality too, though strangely muted acidity. I’d want a bit more spark in my Pinot Grigio.
The slopes of Alto Adige are considered to produce some of the best Italian Pinot Grigio (along with Friuli further over to the East). At first this had an appealingly pure smell of a stream coursing over rocks, with some flecks of lemon but this faded quickly to expose a harsh ethanol smell. It tasted better – of pears, lemon peel, and grass with a bitter herby finish. It didn’t rock my world.
Wimbledon Wine Cellars £22.99
Made by Tuscan producers Ruffino, and grown on in the prime Collio regio in Friuli, this had a light, elegant nose with whispers of citrus blossom, stones and the merest hint of soft white buttered bread. It tastes herby, citrussy and gently rounded. Sits on the lees you see – those deposits of dead yeast left after fermentation that give a light white wine added roundness. So, while not the classic bone dry Northern Italian PG, this sits head and shoulders above all the others. But then it cost the most.
Wimbledon Wine Cellars £13.99
Sipping this made me yearn for a hot, sunny day, some hot, crisp fitto misto and some lapping water. Bright, pure, zesty with a teeny-tiny hint of blossom on the nose, this tastes of crisp apples, herbs and stones. While this style will never be a personal favourite, this was easily the best example of the classic Veneto style I found (even if it comes from just outside).
So there you have it. Yes, you can find a tasty Pinot Grigio for under a £10, but you need to be picky about the area (Friuli seems the best bet). And generally, the more you spend, the better wine you’ll get.
Have you tried Falanghina?