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No plan B for Pinot Grigio

Published:  18 January, 2007

Pinot Grigio is one of the success stories of the past five years. It's been the beneficiary of people somehow getting it into their heads that Chardonnay is a low-grade grape that has to be shunned because some New World producers once made it in a blowsy style.

Wine drinkers are nothing if not fickle, and Pinot Grigio suits because its wines are made in a dry, neutral style that can go down via a few glasses in the pub.

However, this situation of popularity probably won't be maintained for much longer if the short harvests have their predicted effect in 2008. A lack of wine will be severe for many, but for Italy and Australia particularly. And in Italy there's a powerful brand called Pinot Grigio that could suffer more than most.

Whereas Gallo or Jacob's Creek can shift their consumers onto grapes that have yielded better than most, producers of Pinot Grigio will just have to face up to the way this variety responds to a bad year. In other words, it's a strong brand, but one with no plan B.

And there are plenty of Sauvignon Blanc producers waiting in the wings to take over, with those churning out Viognier, Verdelho and Fiano poised to make a few inroads too.

The Kiwi's favourite can be made in a similarly zesty, appealing way to Pinot Grigio, and it's the best tip for strong growth in 2008, from California and France as much as New Zealand.

The alternative scenario is where Pinot Grigio volumes are held up because winemakers blend in other varieties. The law allows for up to 20% of other grapes to go in, but many winemakers take this further, and it has been know to go up to another 30% of less noble grapes.

Which means if you do your sums that there are some wines out there labelled Pinot Grigio, with only half that variety filling the bottle. In fact, wine made from 100% Pinot Grigio can be outstanding - it's just that we so rarely get to try it.

There's scope to enlarge Pinot Grigio volumes to some extent then, but surely too much Trebbiano will test even the most undiscerning of palates.

James Aufenast is deputy editor of Harpers