Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2008 Porta Sole pinot grigio

The pinot grigio is not the most exciting grape in the world, and it is not, as far as I know, uniquely made into something else as other bland grapes are -- as trebbiano is made into cognac, or as the several native varieties of Spain or Portugal eventually reach the dignity of sherry or port.

What many people have come to consider the (budget-friendly, but) gold standard of pinot grigio, Santa Margherita, tastes in my opinion like water in which a block of wood has been enthusiastically steeped. This seems to be the main problem with pinot grigio: its fruitiness is so delicate that any time the wine spends in an oak barrel is too much, yet no time in an oak barrel at all results in a potation that struggles to be sourish -- "crisp" is the politer word -- and doesn't do much else.

However, when it's serviceable or better, a glass of it is certainly pleasant enough with a simple meal, or just for sipping while watching Star Trek, as Hugh Johnson so nicely puts it, "writing letters, reading, or watching television." (He is speaking, in How to Enjoy Your Wine, of a whole category of undemonstrative, quaffable white wines, even including the "Mountain White or whatever" that only someone of his stature would have the confidence to mention.) And, for simple quaffability, this 2008 Porta Sole is a pleasant surprise. The balance seems just right -- a little fruit, a little body, a little vanilla in the aroma and taste to counter that pinot grigio crispness.

What I don't understand is the fine print on Italian wine labels. Perhaps it is more a question of Italian wine production. At the risk of being both repetitive and too cute for words, I still say they all sound as if they are made by a wholly owned subsidiary of James Bond's evil nemesis, SPECTRE. Of itself, Porta Sole announces, "Terre degli Osci, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, bottled by Cantine Galasso SRL, Loreto Aprutino, Pescara, Italia."

That's the back label. The fine print on the front label reads "Viticoltore Ettore Galasso Loreto Aprutino." Somewhere in there, I think, is someone's name, Ettore Galasso, and of course even I understand the back label's "Italia." Indicazione Geografica Tipica, sometimes abbreviated I.G.T., means this is a sort of middle-tier effort, produced according to stricter standards than a "table wine" simply saying it's from Italy, but looser standards than one proudly trumpeting it is D.O.C. or, even better, D.O.C.G. -- guaranteed to be from a certain exclusive little place (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or guaranteed to be from that certain place and have certain fine characteristics seen only there (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).

To clarify how special a D.O.C.G. wine is or should be, it helps to consult Ron and Sharon Herbst's New Wine Lover's Companion. There you will find a list of the first five regions of Italy granted D.O.C.G. status. They are Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti. Wines all, to be sure; but places first, places with more than a whiff of wine legend about them. (It all gets rather circular.) Imagine being able to drink something and tramp its roads.

You can't do that with pinot grigio, but you can enjoy this one. The roads we would tramp to find its origine, by the way, will lead us to the town of Loreto Aprutino in the Abruzzo, in east central Italy on the Adriatic coast.

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