Classy whites for surviving the scorching summer heat

John H. Isacs
Our summer sipping survival journey continues with one of the world's most popular white wines.
John H. Isacs

We return to the realm of white vinos for the third chapter of our sensational summer wine series. The sweltering heat of summer in Shanghai is well upon us and our need for classy quenchers has never been greater.

Week one summer star Sauvignon Blanc was an ideal solution, so was last time's fresh and fruity red variety Grenache. Our summer sipping survival journey continues with one of the world's most popular white wines.

Classy whites for surviving the scorching summer heat
Ti Gong

Undulating hilly vineyards of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy

In the wine world, the Pinot family is royalty. The father of the family is the noble French red variety Pinot Noir, and the siblings are the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris white wine grapes. The entire family is so closely related that only a single gene mutation of the outer skin separates them.

The ancestral home of the Pinot family is believed to be Burgundy where the earliest records of Pinot Noir being cultivated date back to the first century after Christ. In truth, the earliest progenitors of the Pinot family may have first been cultivated centuries before somewhere in Europe or perhaps even the Near East.

Pinot Gris as a distinct variety first appeared in Burgundy sometime during the 13th century. By the 14 century the Pinot Gris was also well established in neighboring French, Swiss, German and Italian regions. Pinot Gris thrived in these regions as a favored grape for single variety as well as blended wines.

Burgundy lovers may find it surprising to note that during the 18th century the variety comprised approximately 20 percent of blends in Domaine Romanee Conti red wines. Many of Burgundy's best wines had significant contributions of Pinot Gris, then everything changed with the virulent outbreak of the Phylloxera pest in the late 18th century.

In Burgundy and throughout France and Europe Phylloxera decimated vines until the solution of grafting local vines to pest-resistant American rootstock was discovered. Unfortunately, the Pinot Gris variety proved difficult to graft to American rootstock and the grape in Burgundy and Champagne was gradually phased out and replanted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines.

Fortunately, cooler French climates proved more accommodating to Pinot Gris and the variety found a new home in Alsace. Alsace still makes many of the most serious, rich and age-worthy Pinot Gris wines, but it's the Italian version of the grape known as Pinot Grigio that has become the most popular and commercially successful. This is where the story of this week's summer beauty really begins.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Pinot Grigio wines are made in many wine regions around the world, but many of the finest examples come from cool climates in northern Italy with the largest producer being the amalgamated region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Over 40 percent of the land is mountainous terrain dotted with hillside vineyards.

The region has a wide variety of soils and an alpine continental climate in the north and Mediterranean climate to the south. The former cooler climate area tends to make fresher, better structured wines, something especially important for Pinot Grigio wines. In total, the wine region boasts four DOCGs, 12 DOCs and three IGPs. Led by Pinot Grigio, white wines account for nearly 80 percent of total wine production the highest such figure in Italy.

Other important white grapes are the local Friulano and Verduzzo varieties as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc from France and Riesling from Germany. The region is also an important cultivator of Gloria grapes that are used to make Prosecco sparkling wines. The principal red varieties are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Most Friuli-Venezia Giulia wines have the summer-friendly attributes of freshness and fruitiness, but Pinot Grigio offers the most friendly solution. Well-made wines offer plenty of lemon, lime, green apple and peach aromas and flavors with mouth-puckering freshness. To add richness and complexity, many winemakers allow the wines to spend time on the lees.

Three high-quality wines available in Shanghai are helping break the stigma that all Italian Pinot Grigio wines are insipid and characterless. The Jermann Friuli Pinot Grigio DOC benefits from six months on the lees and features a brilliant light gold color with medium-to-full body and abundant fresh peach and pear aromas and a respectably long finish. The Italo Cescon Friuli Venezia Giulia Pinot Grigio DOC is another wine that spends half a year on the lees but at 12 percent alcohol this is a lighter, more finesse styled wine.

Rounding out my terrific Pinot Gris summer wine trio is the Mosole Venezia Pinot Grigio DOC. This fairly heady 13.5 percent alcohol wine also spends time on the lees and features lively aromas and flavors of pear, peach and almonds. At 13.5 percent alcohol this is a fairly heady white wine. Other recommended Pinot Grigio producers with wines available in our fair city include Zonin, Villa Sandi, Sartori, Marco Felluga and Torresella.

To optimize your summer drinking experience and accentuate the natural freshness and animated fruitiness of Pinot Grigio wines, it's best to serve the wines well-chilled or about 8 degrees Celsius. It's also a good idea to consume the wines while young, sticking to the most recent vintages.

Classy whites for surviving the scorching summer heat

Where to buy

Roma, 1006 Kangding Rd, 6237-8816

Italo Cescon Friuli Pinot Grigio DOC

Jermann Friuli Pinot Grigio DOC (website)

Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio

Zonin Collection Pinto Grigio della Venezia IGT

Artyzen Hotel Shanghai, 3999-6 Hongxi Rd, 6060-2323

Mosole Pinto Grigio Venezia DOC

Special Reports