• Two Thumbs Up
• Lots of perfume-like aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, lime zest and chalky minerality. It had relatively rich flavors of lime, cantaloupe and ripe pear with a fun white pepper and jalapeño finish.
Wine pundits like to throw around the term “noble grapes” as if they were some sort of enological kingmakers. These words grate on me because if there are grapes that are noble, naturally there must ignoble ones.
“Egad, Gladys, put down that glass! You are drinking peasant wine.”
Are all grapes equal? No, but who gets to decide which are royalty and which are rednecks. Here’s a little insight into the word “noble” when it’s paired up with grapes, vines, varieties or wines: The next time you see a wine writer declare something noble, just substitute the words “hoity toity.”
Hoity toity, that is what we mean when we say noble (And I say “we” because I’ve inserted “noble whatever” here and there with an knowing air of pompous certainty.) We’re talking about fancy-pants wines from the mountain vineyards above Napa, the rolling hills of Barolo and the fractured slopes of Burgundy—wines that most of us will never try due to lack of access or funds (or interest?).
The funny thing is that most wine drinkers, if given the chance to try them, would wonder what the big deal is about these noble wines anyway. They would find many expensive wines from famous regions overwhelmingly tannic or so subtle they elicit disbelief.
“Sydney, you paid how much for that watery stuff?”
The fact is most inhabitants of the wine world prefer a simple, humble pinot grigios to any reserve cabernet sauvignon, single-vineyard pinot noir or grand cru chardonnay. Sales figures clearly bear out this point.
So, this week, I put together a panel of seven inexpensive-but-wildly-popular pinot grigios from Italy and California. These wines are neither hoity nor toity. They are light, crisp, fun wines that don’t mind if you throw an ice cube at them. While they would never be mistaken for nobility by most wine scribes, they have a certain gallant utility in some situations.
As much as I enjoy red wines of noble provenance from Bordeaux, I would prefer a $9, ice-cold pinot grigio in my hand when I’m standing on a wooden deck in August with waves of heat radiating up my pant leg. Let’s call this situational nobility for the lowly pinot grigio.
I tasted five pinot grigios from three regions in northeastern Italy and two California pinot grigios. All were $15 or less, but the Italians were clearly the better choice with cleaner flavors and brighter, refreshing acidity. Of course, I preferred the most expensive one of the bunch (2009 Pighin Pinot Grigio), but the 2009 Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($10) was a close second. The $9 Ruffino, Lumina, Pinot Grigio wasn’t half bad either.
Noble wines? Not in my book, but my book does not account for anybody but me. Nobility is in the glass of the holder.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.