I've passed the last few months spending altogether too much time worrying about BC Pinot Gris. Starting from the proposition that our most planted grape is a bit of a dud in our region, I've uncovered not one, but two variations that have me eating crow and actually praising the labrador retriever of vinifera.
And in many ways, what we face in Canada with this grape is a microcosm of the world at large. Pinot Grigio, as it's known it Italy, is one of that country's most wildly successful white wine grapes and frequently its most insipid. Watery, vaguely fruit forward, it's become a bit of a punchline to describe a certain type of ladies who lunch: "We'll have a bottle of Pinot Grigio please, extra cold." But since my earliest days at a young student working at Canada's first independent wine store (Edmonton's still wonderful The Wine Cellar), I was guided by mentors who told me that only small minded sorts judged entire genres of wine based on the current trends. And that Alois Lageder was the great Pinot Grigio producer in the world.
It's guidance that's steered me well all these years. For three decades I've been able to instantly size up a serious wine list by seeing whether not the creator was confident enough to put Pinot Grigio on it, and smart enough to make sure it was Lageder PG. That sounds like a very narrow subset, but surprisingly it's not. Lageder wine (not just the PG, but their ethereal Pinot Noir, too) is one of those wines that's both cult-y and widely available in North America.
Early in the lockdown, I had the opportunity to have a zoom conversation with Clemens Lageder, who's the 6th generation of Lageders to make wine in Italy's Northern Alto Adige province. Given my long relationship with the wines, I fear I came across as a bit of a fanboy when asking questions about the winery. When did you concert to Biodynamics? How much Lagrein do you grow? What challenges does the winery face with climate change?
On the last topic Clemens was particularly insightful. The winery, uber-cognizant of the necessity that their wines (the whites in particular) be able to maintain their acidity and freshness to be true Lageder wines, is deep in multi-year trials on increasing elevation (a benefit when you grow grapes in the shadow of the Dolomites) and picking the grapes earlier and earlier. In addition they're experimenting in the cellar as well—using increased skin contact (which has been a calling card of many natural winemakers) and whole cluster fermentation (ditto), and then blending these trials with classically direct pressed grapes to continue to imbue the wine with the freshness and vitality that made their reputation.
The results are amazing. While I'm sure there are some ultra-low production Pinot Grigio producers who are making astounding wine, the fact is that year in, year out I've not come across a producer who makes better Pinot Grigio. The Porer Pinot Grigio—that rare balance of lemon and lime with an almost oily texture while still squeezing acidity out of grape that doesn't give it up lightly—is a revelation. And at $33 it's one of the great wine deals in the world—tell me another wine that's an unquestioned worldwide benchmark of a grape that you can have for this price. And the Dolomiti Pinot Grigio is even a crazier deal–$22. It's a little more classically PG with crisp peach on the palate but the freshness and acidity is again astounding.
The one shame is that neither wine (nor any Lageder wine) is readily available at the BCLDB stores right now - an insane headscratcher. No bother, go the private route or, better, keep your eyes peeled on the Italy section of local wine lists. Our great somms will have sourced for you and please reward them for their wisdom.