Some time ago, pinot grigio became almost synonymous with Italian white wine. While there is a broad range of Italian whites available these days, from arneis to soave, Gavi to grillo, pinot grigio has a prominent place on the spectrum because it is widely grown and easy to find on store shelves in this country. Pick out a few of them and chances are you’ll find at least one that stands out.
It's a particularly appropriate exercise at this time of year because pinot grigios — crisp, refreshing and pleasantly fruity at their best — are among my favorite warm-weather whites, along with muscadet from France’s Loire Valley and albarino from Spain (alvarinho in Portugal), to name just a few examples. These wines also share common ground in that they are almost always made without aging in oak, which contributes to their lightness and versatility with food.
Another thing that pinot grigio, also known as pinot gris, has going for it is that it can be downright cheap, which is a bonus, if not a requirement, as we head into this recessionary summer. The trick is to find wines that are not only fresh and lively but that offer attractive fruit as well, giving them real character, as opposed to those that taste dull and generic. Fortunately, with better vineyard practices and winemaking throughout Italy in recent years, the odds have improved for finding white wines that fall into the liquid assets column.
I was hopeful the other night as we put together a quick, end-of-the-week dinner of linguine and white clam sauce. Is there a more satisfying, all-but-effortless non-meat comfort food? All you need are a couple of cans of pre-made sauce (Cento is one brand we’ve liked recently), dumped into a pan over some sautéed chopped garlic and simmered for a few minutes with a splash or two of leftover white wine. Some cut-up Italian parsley provides a colorful finishing touch and almost fools you into thinking the basic sauce didn’t come out of some $2 cans.
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As I waited for the pasta water to boil and the sauce to warm up, I opened a bottle of the 2008 Le Coste Pinot Grigio delle Venezie from the Francesco Posenato winery in the Veneto region of northern Italy. This estate-bottled wine, which I bought for $8 at Gotham Wines & Liquors in New York, could have easily been double the price. With melon, lime and floral notes, it also has an appealing hint of raspberry. Its ample acidity and long citrusy finish cut through the clam sauce like a knife. (Imported by Vignaioli Selection, New York.)
I also enjoyed the 2008 Il Conte Pinot Grigio, another $8 value from the Veneto that I bought at Chambers Street Wines, also in New York. This one has apple and lemon notes with a touch of fresh ginger. I can easily see it with oysters and clams on the half shell, sushi and broiled flounder fillets. (Imported by Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
Pinot grigios like these are also great wines for sipping before dinner, especially on the warm summer evenings to come. While the temptation is to serve them ice cold, this will obscure their taste, which is true of almost all white wines. There is no shortage of pinot grigios from which to choose, although one heavily advertised brand would like you to think that its wine towers above the rest, with a price tag that can approach $30! That’s nonsense. For that kind of money, pick up three or four bottles at $8 or so, find one or two you like, then enjoy good, inexpensive pinot grigio all summer long.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at email@example.com
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