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Summer is Pinot Grigio Time

San Francisco in May can be Antarctica compared to Las Vegas. After enduring 90-plus temperatures while touring Sin City, we were ready to chill and eat our way through Buddy V’s menu at The Venetian: Caprese salad, octopus in aromatic broth, appetizer meatballs, whole seabass and “choice. lobster” custard dessert. What wine to go with? Given the summery heat, pinot grigio was the top choice.

Buddy V’s manager Emily Carson’s wine list featured three Italian pinot grigios from Alto Adige, Lombardy, and Fruili. Carson’s staff clearly described Alto Adige bottling, the Fruili with green apple, and Lombardian wines as softer, we chose the refreshing, citrus-inflected Alto Adige which was a good match to our myriad dishes.

When we returned to cooler climes, I turned to pinot grigio from Trentino DOC and was very pleased with the wine, though I yearned to pair it with more of Chef Bryan Forgione’s spaghetti Bolognese.

Last summer I traveled to the Northern Italy to learn more about Trentino DOC—and pinot grigio is a major player in the appellation along with metodo classico sparkling wine. The second most popular white wine in the U.S., and the most popular Italian export here, pinot grigio can be maligned in the anything but chardonnay-or-merlot category. But made correctly, the French named pinot gris grape, which traveled via Switzerland to Northern Italy, brings benefits to the table.
Left: Vineyard in Trentino DOC

Most pinot grigios on the market are made by the more general, less stringent IGT appellation. With Trentino DOC, the quality standards are much higher: There can be no blending of aromatic grapes, yields must be smaller, and harvest is typically later, which will impart a more rounded mouthfeel.

I tapped Dr. Lucio Matricardi to explain the unique elements of Trentino Doc pinot grigio produced with the higher, specified standards. With his doctorate in viticulture and oenology, the winemaker for Gruppo Mezzacorona led us directly to the vineyard. Matricardi patiently explained why pinto grigio is a challenging grape to grow. The grape’s sensitivity to soil, elevation and climate leads to the wide diversity of pinot grigio styles on the market. The variety develops tight clusters which are sensitive to spoilage and mold after rain or other disruptive weather conditions. Even small pricks to the skin spoil the grape. Also, the grape needs physical maturity to develop the proper amount of viscosity, leading to richer, fuller mouthfeel.

The Trentino DOC appellation is bordered by the unique Dolomite Mountains. A glacially formed Alpine range, these mountain rocks are a rare mix of magnesium from volcanic activity in the area and carbonated limestone from the glacial terrain.
“This is a unique area,” said Matricardi. “You can pick grapes and see people ski. We have the valley of the Adige River—and the elevation up to 1,500 in the Dolomites. We are close to Lake Garda which brings warmth, an advantage to getting full physiological maturity and more complexity than the higher Alto Adige region north of us.”

Many Italian pinot grigios come from the Veneto. Matricardi notes that wines from this area can be less complex. “The region is closer to sea level with grapes grown in rich, alluvial soil which produces lighter aromas and less acid. Over 80 percent of the grapes in the Veneto are machine picked. At Mezzacorona, we hand pick our estate grapes, and they are estate bottled.”

The grapes that Matricardi selects for the Mezzacorona Trentino DOC ripen with strong diurnal temperature variation to yield more aroma and complexity. “Along with the temperature variation, the wind reduces mold and spoilage. The longer hang time yields more ripeness and fruitiness, and the Dolomite soils build minerality into the wine.”

Matricardi is doing something right in the pinot grigio vineyards. Mezzacorona has seen positive growth in the last five years with an average annual growth of five-percent growth. Since 2014 the company has also produced a reserve pinot grigio under the Cliffhanger label. Grapes are selected from tiny plots on the steep hills that merge into cliffs at the edge of the Dolomites. The term that locals use to describe these clinging vines is agrappato. I found the reserve designation for Cliffhanger pinot grigio was well-deserved from the honeysuckle and crisp, green nose, the minerality and fuller mouthfeel.

After my R&R and Buddy’s V’s dinner extravaganza with pinot grigio in Las Vegas, and the hunt for refreshing wines in my wine cooler, I’m ready to keep exploring the varietal. I’ll look for the happy grapes that cling to the vines until ripe—and settle down with a Caprese salad and a white wine glass filled with pinot grigio.



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