World's not enough for Grigio & co

20 April, 2007

The press release appeared a couple of days too late, but I still assumed it was a delayed April fool. It read: "Blue Nun launches latest style Pinot Grigio/Riesling" . Not quite as good a spoof as the one Wine magazine ran years ago about a Falkland Islands Müller Thurgau or Decanter magazine's more recent announcement that Paris Hilton is to be the new face of Bordeaux (like the best April fools, this is all too plausible), but still a decent attempt to bring a smile to the face of the UK wine trade.

And then I realised it was a) true and b) yet another example of the creeping Pinot Grigio-isation of the wine world. The blend - and why does this not surprise me? - is a Tesco exclusive. The last list I was sent by our biggest wine retailer includes Pinot Grigio

from Hungary, Italy, Germany and the US . There's a Pinot Grigio Blush, a Pinot Grigio wine box, a Pinot Grigio Reserve, a Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay, a Pinot Grigio/Garganega, a Pinot Grigio Frizzante, a Pinot Grigio rosé and a Pinot Grigio cream liqueur. I made the last one up, but just wait ...

What is it about Pinot Grigio that makes it so popular? Almost single-handedly, the style is driving the Italian category, but no one seems to know why. If Blue Nun's move is anything to go by - and remember that Kendermann already

has a "Pinot Grigio" on the market - then German producers must be hoping to boost sales by using the Italian synonym for Grauburgunder.

In one sense, you can see why the Germans are trying to cash in. The term Pinot Grigio (not to mention the bland, over-cropped stuff that is generally bottled under its name) has become a generic wine style, to the point where most consumers don't care where it comes from. Romania? Yummy.

China? Bring it on. Guess where Tesco's Via Cappella Pinot Grigio

is from? I'll give you a clue - it's not Italy. Given that much of what it sold as Italian Pinot Grigio is made from other varieties (allegedly, of course) why should it matter?

The problem with the ongoing Pinot Grigio boom is threefold . The first is that it has undermined the success of good Pinot Gris . Tesco has Pinot Grigio

from all over the world, but not a single Pinot Gris from Alsace. I suspect the same is true of other major multiples. Only last year one of Alsace's best co-operatives was trying to garner support both locally and internationally to call its Pinot Gris Pinot Grigio. The move failed, I'm pleased to say. There are some very good Pinot Gris made in Oregon, France and New Zealand, but most consumers ignore them in favour of cheaper and blander Pinot Grigio .

The second is that the PG phenomenon makes wine retailers lazy. If it's easier to sell flavourless Pinot Grigio than, say, Fiano,

Grillo, Vermentino or Arneis, why bother to stock more interesting Italian grapes? Pinot Grigio is increasingly doing what Chardonnay used to do in certain parts of the world, providing producers with a short cut to short-term success. Call me a pessimist, but I think the net result will be declining sales of better varieties and the loss of local diversity.

And the third? Well,

it is that retailers are encouraging consumers to drink a wine that, in far too many cases, has

the personality

of a traffic cone. There are hundreds of more interesting grape varieties out there, so why not guide punters towards them? Pinot Grigio, sadly, will sell all too well on its own.

Wines of Argentina tasting was too quick off the mark for UK trade

It's great to see signs of animation from Wines of Argentina's London office. Since the generic body was established last summer, it's been a case of all quiet on the Andean front, especially when compared with what Wines of Chile has achieved in a similar period, even if the latter has a larger staff and budget.

The animation came earlier this month in the form of a tasting of some of the

winners from the inaugural Argentina Wine Awards, judged by a cuvée of British journos, sommeliers, businessmen and consultants

in February. This looked remarkably like the competition the Chileans have been running for the last four years, but there's not necessarily anything wrong with imitation.

There were 24 wines on show at the Argentinian embassy and the general quality was

good (visit for details

). How could it be otherwise when the jury included the likes of Oz Clarke, Robert Joseph, Peter Richards and Jancis Robinson MW?

The only hiccup was that most of the winning bottles aren't available here. Some of the wines are from vintages that are no longer on sale, a few have no importer


many haven't been shipped yet. If Wines of Argentina wanted to make an impact , why not delay the tasting

so that the wines were at least in the country? Meanwhile, the country's UK market share is static at 1.5 per cent.

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When Bordeaux was in fashion, it seemed almost logical that we should fetishise winemakers. Here were people responsible for brilliant acts of blending, across large estates and multiple grape varieties, including superstars such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These days, fashion has moved on and pinot noir is ascendant. As a result, the star of the winemaker has fallen and we find ourselves following a new star in the sky: terroir.

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