2016 Tilia Pinot Grigio
Most Italians dislike Pinot Grigio. Not because of its taste, or style, or fruitiness; but because it’s a disgrace. So many companies have made so much money out of such poor wine, that it has become a national embarrassment. And unfortunately this grub-steak of a Pinot Grigio is the one that most Americans are familiar with.
Pinot Grigio’s largest area of production is the flat lands just outside of Venice. Forced to be incredibly high yielding, the resulting grapes are purchased by bulk producers to be blended away and sold under market-friendly fantasy names. At their best, these wines are crisp, light and neutral of flavor. At their worst, they are innocuous cash-cows produced by foreign companies pillaging Italian land.
This is sad for two reasons.
First, Pinot Grigio doesn’t have to be insipid. And second, there are hundreds of small family farmers in the Friuli and Primorska regions above Veneto that make sensational Grigios, and they deserve attention.
Grigio is the Italian transliteration of Gris, or grey. The “grey” here refers to the skins of the grapes which are much thicker and darker than most white wine grapes. These thicker, more colorful skins impart a flavor that is palpable on the palate as well as in the aroma. Good Grigios have texture and weight. This might be hard to imagine – especially given the current glut of poor Grigio – but the best should revolve around honey, apricot and over-ripe peach textures.
The craftsmanship required to coax the best out of Pinot Grigio now straddles an international border – the northeast corner of Italy and the far western side of Slovenia. It is here where the magical combination of sun, soil, and loving attention makes its most dramatic mark. This can’t be done by multinational corporations running two-story combines through a field. It has to be done one grape bunch at a time by someone who knows each vine. One such winemaking couple is Melita and Matjaž Lemut.
As you might guess from their name, Melita and Matjaž Lemut are Slovenian. The idea of Slovenian wine scares some people but it shouldn’t. The Lemuts will tell you that in the five generations their family has been making wine, the vineyards have been within four different countries (Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia and Slovenia for those who are counting) – and they haven’t ever sold any land. Borders may change, but the Lemuts’ Grigios are still among the best:
Named Tilia, the Latin name for the Linden trees that grow so well in the area, this may be unlike any other Grigio you have tasted with its rich lemon, peach, apricot and honey flavors. The palate is bright and fresh but also has the texture of a French Gris – a seriousness of body that all the best Grigios convey. This is the style of Grigio that goes perfectly with late summer / early fall foods – roasted chicken with rosemary, grilled garlic and ginger shrimp, saffron risotto with arugula and shiitakes, veal Parmesan, bagna cauda, cheesy potatoes, maybe even a little sausage; bring it on. Tilia Pinot Grigio can handle it all. Tilia is full and ample, as extravagantly styled as the best of all Pinot Grigios, and only half their price.