The Proliferation of Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio has overtaken Sauvignon Blanc in sales in the U.S., to become the number-two varietal white wine behind Chardonnay.

Question: What is the number-one selling imported wine in America? Surprise...it's a Pinot Grigio from Cavit.

I've been watching the steady growth of Pinot Grigio in this country for some time. The first bottle of this flavorful white reached these shores in 1977—Cavit's Pinot Grigio really caught the attention of those of us in the business. It was so delicious, dry and light, and was the ideal match for pasta, white meats and seafood. It was shortly followed in 1980 by Santa Margherita's complex, full-bodied, lush Pinot Grigio.

Since that time, Pinot Grigio's popularity has broadened from Italian restaurants to become the darling of mainstream eating establishments and retail shops. The statistics on sales and production in the U.S. are astounding. (Pinot Gris is the term sometimes used in this country for Pinot Grigio—it's the same grape.) In terms of sales, consider this: Cavit's sales in this country in 1977 amounted to a few hundred cases; last year, Pinot Grigio sales reached over 4 million cases nationwide. Amazingly, sales of California Pinot Grigio grew tenfold in one year: from 70,000 cases in 2000 to more than 700,000 cases in 2001. Drum roll please: According to InfoScan Wine Update, which monitors grocery store sales, the Pinot Gris/Grigio category has overtaken Sauvignon Blanc to become the number-two selling varietal white wine behind Chardonnay in this country.

Pinot Grigio is so hot that some of the biggest wineries in California are actually importing it from Italy. For example, Gallo is importing Ecco Domani. At the same time, Robert Mondavi has a joint venture with Frescobaldi to produce Danzante.

But it wasn't until recently, when I was dining with my daughter, Erika, that the Pinot Grigio phenomenon hit home, so to speak. After the waiter greeted us, Erika spoke right up: "What type of Pinot Grigio do you have?" When I expressed surprise (and made no effort to disguise my pride in her selection), she informed me that all of her friends preferred it. Tastes good, goes great with food and the price is right. And it's fun to say—the soft "g" just rolls off the tongue. (Don't laugh. Chardonnay's success is due, in part, to the fact that wine novices can pronounce it with ease and elegance.) For many young people, Pinot Grigio is their first experience with a dry table wine, setting the stage for further exploration, for which we can all be grateful. At last the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) proponents have something to crow about.

American Pinot Grigio is generally bigger than the wines produced in Italy. The fruit is more forward and the acid is lower. I personally prefer the crisp, clean, elegant Italian version, which has more style and finesse.

I take this opportunity to salute Pinot Grigio because in this issue we celebrate all things Italy, north and south. Tasting director Chuck Simeone and the rest of the Wine Enthusiast tasting panel have turned their attention to the red wines of southern Italy, and have made some remarkable discoveries. One of them is confirmation of what has been whispered in wine circles for some time—keep your eyes on Sicilian wines. Also in this issue, a veritable host of writers bring us a snapshot of Emilia-Romagna—the wines, the foods and the wonderful experiences to be had in its provinces.

Mendocino may sound Italian, but of course it's right here in the States. If you're not familiar with Mendocino, it's understandable. As the Mendonesians are only too eager to tell you, they feel overshadowed by their neighbors in Napa and Sonoma. But as Steve Heimoff discovered, the Mendocino winemakers are justifiably proud of their wines, and determined to do a better job in bringing their message to the attention of the public. At the same time, writer Glen Putman toured the area, taking in its pure, natural beauty, visiting wineries, restaurants, hotels, galleries and shops. He found much to recommend. So pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio and curl up with this issue. Pinot Grigio pairs perfectly with a good read, too.

Cheers and viva Italia!

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