Pinot Grigio occupies a unique place in the wine world which is best told through a tale of two wine customers.
Our first customer is someone who drinks wine occasionally and their preferred wine is Pinot Grigio. They always ask for it by name, shortening the moniker to "Where's the pinot?" You'll rarely find me generalizing about customers, but the fact is that in this case the overwhelming majority of these customers are women and we're always talking about entry level wines, things $15 or less. I understand it, these ladies aren't dedicated wine consumers, which is fine, and for them Pinot Grigio has the most familiarity. A lot of people are only comfortable with what they know and the wine choices can be daunting, so the tried and true Pinot Grigio is their first choice.
Customer #1's Mistake - The error here is in not branching out and trying other grape varieties. Since Pinot Grigio is so popular in the marketplace, large beverage companies are in the game and produce massive quantities of poorly made wine. If the desire here is for "biggest, cheapest" we feel it's better to think "inexpensive, great value" and good, basic Italian wines from Cortese, Garganega, and Vermentino all offer better choices at this price point. Even if you think that you "wouldn't know the difference,” yes, you would.
The second customer is a consistent wine drinker. They've shown interest in learning about wines, so much so in fact that they don't think any quality Pinot Grigio exists. This is also understandable as their experience has only been in tasting the large scale, industrial wines which offer none of the attributes that this customer has come to identify in quality wines like aroma, flavor, texture, and expression. Even if this customer has tried what they think is the best, the infamous Santa Margherita, we have to inform them that unfortunately it's not a good wine (read more).
Customer #2's Mistake - Not going far enough to experience truly fine Pinot Grigio. It's not the grape's fault that it's popularity has risen to such an extent that there is an excess of bad wine. The vast majority of wine grapes are capable of producing good or bad bottles of wine, depending on several factors. Knowing that different grapes have specific climate preferences and subsequent regions where the best wines are made is extremely helpful in finding better bottles.
The Takeaway. For great Pinot Grigio look to the hills and mountains of the Alto Adige and Trentino in northeastern Italy for the best wines (like the Pacher Hof pictured above). It's also good to know that the same grape in French is called Pinot Gris and you can find excellent wines labelled as such from Alsace as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Additionally, the cool climate vineyards in Germany and Austria having been producing delicious Pinot Grigio (calledGrauburgunder or Rulander) for a very long time, they are definitely worth a try.