High on the Vine: Whatever happened to Pinot Grigio?

It’s one of the most popular grapes in the world, but you rarely see it on wine lists

I know people drink Pinot Grigio because it’s one of the most popular varietals in the world and comes in jugs at the supermarket, but it’s been a long time since I last spotted a hearty selection of PG on a wine list. Sotto Sotto in Inman Park, for example, cellars the most Italian wine in Atlanta, and they’ve only got two. Slim pickings since Alto Adige in northeastern Italy is PG’s home. Bacchanalia, which has another extensive cellar, also only carries two. Bone’s, which has 20,000 bottles on hand, carries four.

Temporary slump? Slipping market demand? Nick Salpekar, owner of Highland Fine Wine in Virginia-Highland, points to PG’s seasonality and says that other summery wines have become more popular. “Pinot Grigio only picked up after White Zinfandel became so unpopular,” he says. “Pinot Grigio was a lighter, drier, easy-drinking white wine. But Rosé took the place of Pinot Grigio as a casual summer drink two to three years ago.”

He concluded, “Come July, Rosé will be closed out because distributors don’t want to be sitting on year-old Rosé. Pinot Grigio is the same way.”

Jacob Gragg, an advanced sommelier for distributor Cru-Artisan Wine, was quick to point out that there’s still a market for Pinot Grigio, but added that many sommeliers have switched to similar-styled wines. “Sicily has filled that spot with some of their white wines. Austria and Germany are also making light, easy-drinking, and fruit-driven wines that show more expressions of minerality,” he says.

A willingness to try these other varietals and explore new regions also says something about our own curiosity as wine consumers. “People are becoming more educated and more adventurous,” says Questa Olsen, the beverage manager at BoccaLupo. “It’s easier to get them out of their comfort zones.”

When I do spot a PG on a wine list, it’s relatively inexpensive, averaging about $30 a bottle, which signals a retail value of around $10 to $15. Both Salpekar and Gragg agree that expensive Pinot Grigio ($40 plus, retail) is a rarity, given market demand and how the wine is usually made. Grape yields, use of oak barrels, and time spent aging in the cellar are all taken into consideration before sticking a price on the bottle. Pinot Grigio, says Gragg, rarely touches an oak barrel and spends limited time in the cellar. Grape yields are also typically higher for Pinot Grigio. Taken together, an expensive Pinot Grigio probably won’t cost more than $25.

People, though, definitely still drink Pinot Grigio at restaurants. At BoccaLupo, Olsen offers a 2011 Livon Pinot Grigio for $40 a bottle. Even against nine other white wines from Italy, it’s her top seller. “I expect that. I’m offering a really good one,” she says.