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mixed case: opinion and advice

Thinking Outside the Pinot Grigio Box

Finding good wine alternatives often involves leaving your comfort zone
Photo by: Mark Weinberg

Posted: Sep 6, 2016 3:00pm ET

By Alison Napjus

This month my family will celebrate the christening of my newest niece, and my duties as godmother have already begun, including choosing the afterparty wine. It's a relatively simple task, as the nearby wine shop is large and well-stocked, but I ran into problems with the hostess’ request for an affordable Pinot Grigio.

The retailer’s website yielded more than 160 bottlings. With the “affordable” caveat in mind, I sorted them from lowest to highest price, expecting to have to click through a few pages to find a good option. But I was appalled that I reached page 7, out of 11 pages of results, before I found a Pinot Grigio I would even consider. At that point, I was looking at $15 per bottle when I had been hoping to find something around $10.

I have nothing against Pinot Grigio, and I taste and enjoy very good examples from producers around the world on a regular basis. But my search made me feel that, too often, consumers’ trust is being taken advantage of when it comes to such a popular grape variety.

It’s human nature to gravitate to what we know, but in this case, most of the $10 Pinot Grigios for sale weren’t much better in quality than the $6 to $8 bottlings—simple versions with little flavor or character. The Pinot Gris grape, for which Pinot Grigio is an alias, can quickly lose concentration of flavor when harvested at high yields; clearly many commercial producers are farming for a large crop while relying on the words “Pinot Grigio” on the label to keep sales up, even if quality is down.

As a professional, this experience confirmed for me why it is so important to blind taste everything from mass-market wines through boutique bottlings, as we do here at Wine Spectator to guide our readers. And as a consumer, I decided to follow the mantra of “Think outside the box.” There’s a huge world of wine out there, and letting go of set guidelines can yield an abundance of great options.

Ultimately, I gave the hostess my $15 Pinot Grigio recommendation, as well as two alternatives: an $11 bottling of Picpoul di Pinet, a crisp, fruity white from southern France’s Languedoc region, and a slightly fleshier white from the Rhône Valley’s Lubéron appellation—a steal at $7 a bottle.

Not surprisingly, the hostess decided to take advantage of the combination of an expert’s recommendations and lower price tags, and she informed me that she ordered six bottles of each alternate. She’s looking forward to trying something new, and I’m looking forward to holding a glass of tasty white in one hand and my niece in the other.

Alison Napjus' Recommendations

Charles Chambless
Stow, Ohio, USA —  September 8, 2016 11:56am ET
As a wine specialist in a small shop in Ohio, I have been recommending the same picpoul de pinet ($9.99) and the La Vielle Ferme Blanc, aka Chicken Wine, due to the chickens on the label ($6.99) , as two of the best value wines on the market. People who buy these wines for the first time are always amazed at how good they are. I am totally surprised to see both of these wines get your recommendation!

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