Somewhere along the way, Italian pinot grigio became the most popular girl at the dance. It wasn't that she was as complex as her sisters in Alsace or as charming as her cousin, pinot bianco, but she was easy, especially when sufficiently chilled. Sometimes, we all like easy.
About a quarter-century ago, over-cropped trebbiano, mass-produced Soave and others gave Italian white wines a pretty gnarly reputation. But some of the pinot grigio coming out of northeast Italy at the time seemed like a drastic improvement, and many were.
While it lacks the spice and range of fruit of Alsatian pinot gris or an intense sense of terroir, it has its own character — with slivered almonds, minerals and subtle fruit qualities. Crisp and bright, it can be a great match with seafood or hot weather.
The problem is that for every decently made version, there are countless others that are forgettable at best.
The emergence of "ramato"-style pinot grigio has rekindled my interest to a small degree. This is a method where the grapes are fermented on their skins, which are copper colored. The result is wines that are generally more interesting, as they also have additional texture and flavor.
I decided it was time to check my bad attitude at the door and revisit pinot grigio that is made without skin contact. I accumulated a bunch that retail for less than $15 to see if I could come up with three that are worthy of a recommendation. At long last, I have:
La Fiera Pinot Grigio, 2012 (Veneto, Italy): The Botter family started making wine commercially in 1928. With numerous labels and wines made in several regions, production has grown over the years. But the winery in the Veneto has always been its home, with pinot grigio being its rock. Light, fresh and floral with almond crumbs and apples, it is simple but satisfying. Suggested retail: $9
Ca' del Sarto Pinot Grigio, 2012 (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy): Ca' del Sarto is a negociant whose mission is to offer inexpensive yet sound wines. Several wines are made from different regions, including a barbera from Piedmont and a prosecco from Veneto. The pinot grigio is sourced from several growers in the Friuli Grave region and fermented in stainless steel. Medium-bodied and zesty with hints of lemon, lime, kumquat and peach, it is clean, refreshing and, at 12 percent alcohol, an apt choice for summer. Suggested retail: $10
Attems Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT, 2012 (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy): The Attems family traces its winemaking roots in Friuli from 1106. In 1964, Douglas Attems formed the Consorzio dei Vini del Collio. They have since partnered with the Frescobaldi family. While not a full-on ramato style, it has a slight orange tinge that is a preview of the tangerine and peach flavors on the palate that made me think of albariño. Suggested retail: $15
Some of these wines can be found at Beltramo's and Berkeley Bowl and St. Clair Liquor.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.