white by-the-glass.” There are limits,
however, on how far some Americans
are willing to reach, Zacharias notes:
“What kills me is that we offer a beau-
tiful Alsatian Pinot Gris by the bottle
and half bottle and we can’t move it.
We’re practically giving it away at $33
a bottle. We need to do a better job
of explaining this varietal because the
perception often is that PG above $8 a
glass must be overpriced.”
Meanwhile, Pinot Gris from Cali-
fornia and Oregon, like J Vineyard’s
critical and popular hit, are making in-
roads both on- and off-premise. J, based
in Sonoma, first produced Pinot Gris
exclusively from Russian River Valley
fruit in the 2003 vintage. Expanded
production into a California bottling
has paid off; this screwcap version is
now the top-selling California Pinot
Gris in America above $14 SRP. Me-
lissa Stackhouse, J’s VP of winemak-
ing, attributes the success both to the
wine’s food friendliness and the econ-
omy. “The introduction of J’s Califor-
nia Pinot Gris in 2009 was a classic
example of the right wine at the
right time,” she says. “Consumers
were demanding great quality and
value during the downturn.”
Patel, who just started car-
rying the J, is eager to see what
he can do with the $15 retail la-
bel. Meanwhile, the best-selling
white wine by the glass at the Pyramid
Room, the restaurant in the Fairmont
Hotel in Dallas, is the Pinot Gris from
Oregon’s Adelsheim Vineyard—some-
thing that sommelier Hunter Hammett
is quite proud of.
“That’s why it works, because there
are some people who are tired of Pinot
Grigio as they know it,” says Ham-
mett, who has three Pinot Grigio and
Pinot Gris on his list, none of which
are among the category leaders. “They
don’t want to drink Chardonnay, but
they also don’t want the same old thing.
And we’re in an environment where we
can do this.”
Age is the common denominator
among these more adventurous Pinot
Grigio drinkers. They’re younger than
the typical 35 and older woman—and
may even include men, something not
often seen. Hammett says his Adelsheim
drinkers include young couples and
male single business travelers, while
Kowalsky says she thinks these new
drinkers could eventually skew the
category’s demographic younger.
Hence, there are possibilities
that may not have existed before.
Says Kowalsky: “Pinot Grigio is
what every wine drinker wants in
a white wine.” The question to
answer is which Pinot Grigio they
will be drinking.
Some Go-To Pinot Grigio/
Pinot Gris Selections:
One of the big-
gest Italian producers, but also
one of the most consistent, with
surprising amount of varietal
Less well-known California
Pinot Grigio made in Italian style
with lower alcohol.
Almost sweet Cali-
fornia Pinot Grigio, but sound and
professional, like most Black Box
A real Italian stunner,
with pear and minerality.
Very nicely done IGT with
melon and white pepper.
Rich and full,
taking Italian Pinot Grigio in slightly
Elegant $15 wine that revital-
ized California Pinot Gris.
King Estate’s entry-
level Pinot Gris is a fine introduc-
tion to Oregon style.
$15 and UP
Oregon Pinot Gris
with subtle white fruit and low
Pinot Grigio meets
Napa Valley, but without oak; long
a choice for high-end on-premise.
Italian Pinot Grigio
that takes its $8 cousins up lots
and lots of notches.
Cavit is among the nation’s leaders in providing simple, consistent Pinot Grigio
whose popularity straddles on- and off-premise. Right: Alto Adige’s Valle Isarco—
-Italy’s northernmost wine region with vineyards at elevations up to 2,600 feet
above sea level—is known for mineral-rich white wines high in acidity.