I pulled the bottle of Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio from the refrigerator and grabbed my favorite wine glass, a Zalto Denk’Art Universal glass. It required a firm grip and a bit of muscle to remove the screw cap from the bottle of wine. I poured an ounce or so into my glass, put the screw cap back on the wine bottle and placed it in the refrigerator.
As I turned my attention to the glass of Pinot Grigio, the most amazing aromas greeted me — even before I lifted the glass to my nose. This was my first hint that this Pinot Grigio, grown in Alto Adige (and sent to us as a tasting sample), was no ordinary Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the French grape Pinot Gris, which developed as a color mutation of Pinot Noir — seemingly wherever Pinot Noir was planted — in Burgundy, Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. Gris in the name indicates the color of the berries (gray), but they’re also highly variable in color ranging from greyish-blue to brownish-pink.
Italy’s first introduction to Pinot Grigio likely came in the Piemonte region but the variety is now most extensively planted in Veneto, which wine production at large cooperatives. Nearby Friuli is known for quality Pinot Grigio production and the variety is grown in the far north of Italy in Alto Adige as well. Lombardi and Emilia-Romagna are also home to significant plantings of the variety.
In the vineyard, Pinot Gris is early to bud and ripen. It’s a vigorous grower but does not produce large amounts of fruit. Bunches and berries are smallish. The grapes may develop high sugar levels along with moderate to low acidity.
Trentino-Alto Adige is Italy’s most northerly wine region and is nestled up against Austria. The region follows the Adige River and its tributaries through narrow alpine valleys. Trentino occupies the southern portion of the region and is largely Italian speaking. Alto Adige (upper Adige) occupies the northern area where many residents speak German and refer to the province to as Südtirol (South Tyrol).
The Dolomites, a mountain range within the northern Italian Alps, protects the growing region from cold winds. They also provide a dramatic backdrop for the region’s alpine vineyards which, in Alto-Adige, are planted at elevations between 750 and 3250 feet above sea level.
The region enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually and a large swing in temperature from day to night. Soil types are diverse and include moraine debris, volcanic deposits, dolomitic rock, fluvial deposits and slate in the various alpine valleys.
White wine production out paces red wine production in Alto Adige, in spite of the fact that the most widely planted grape is the indigenous red variety Schiava. Pinot Grigio is the next most widely planted, followed by Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Another indigenous red variety, Lagrien, is next followed by Pinot Noir.
The region covers only 13,000 acres or so, making Alto Adige one of Italy’s smallest wine regions. But, as we know, good things come in small packages.
Pinot Grigio, rather than Pinot Gris, is the name most wine drinkers will recognize because in the early 2000s the Italian varietal wine became very popular worldwide. The wine was made is large volume, in a very light style — one you will either enjoy or view as flavorless. Not all Pinot Grigio is the same, however, and the grape is capable of producing wine in a variety of styles. Everything from light bodied and light in flavor, to wines with intense minerally, to highly aromatic wines with stone fruit flavors.
2014 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio — straw yellow in the glass with generous, ripe melon and stone fruit aromas. The flavors are dominated by a complex minerality, strongly supported by melon and ripe peach flavors. All of the brilliant acidity you would expect in a cool-climate wine is present in the form of citrus zest, but it also has a bit of weight in the mouth – which is not expected. The finish is very long, dry and clean. ABV 13.5%
This is a lovely white wine you will want to spend time sipping and thinking about. It is no simple Pinot Grigio lacking in flavor and acidity. It is well balanced, has layers of flavor that are delightful on their own and with all that flavor and structure it’s the perfect food wine. And that clean, bright finish will leave you smacking your lips.
Peter Zemmer was established in 1928 and the third generation of the family is now making wine at their cellar in Cortina. The village is located on the Adige Valley floor in the southern portion of Alto Adige, just near the provincial border with Trentino.
Pinot Grigio for this wine is grown in estate vineyards located both on the valley floor and in mountainside vineyards. Crop yields are kept low and native yeast is used for a slow fermentation in stainless steel. The wine ages on the lees for several months.
We prepared two food pairings to enjoy with this delightful Pinot Grigio. The first night we enjoyed a Scallop and Mushroom Soup with Ginger and Leeks. The pairing was divine. The day before I made chicken stock from scratch, this was the key to this lovely soup. The stock provided a perfectly balanced base for the sautéed mushrooms, ginger and leeks. After slicing the scallops I baked them in butter. The scallops lent a rich, salty, buttery flavor and richness to the soup. The wine paired perfectly with the soup and neither overwhelmed the other in terms of flavor.
Although I purchased the amount of scallops called for in the soup recipe, I found I needed only one-half that amount. I saved the extra for our meal the following evening. The second evening I prepared Bucatini with Seared Scallops. I cooked bucatini according to the directions and in the meantime, sautéed the scallops in butter and set them aside. When the pasta was cooked and drained, I added it to the pan I use to sauté the scallops. I added a bit of olive oil and red pepper flakes. Each portion was topped with scallops. Yum!
The bucatini picked up the rich flavors of the pan juices and the red pepper flakes provided just a bit of heat in the background. The scallops were buttery, toasty and sweet. The Pinot Grigio was cooling and palate-cleansing. Once again, a delicious pairing.
The Take Aways
Do not judge a book by its cover or a Pinot Grigio by its name. Clearly, not every Pinot Grigio is light and lacking in flavor. Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio is made in the alpine vineyards of Alto Adige, has a beautiful straw color, amazingly complex aromas and flavors and brilliant acidity. It has everything you could want in a white wine and is so much more than simply quaffable.
This wine has left me curious not only about other wines made by Peter Zemmer (Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau, Schiava, Lagrein and Pinot Noir to name just a few) but about other wines made in Alto Adige. I have enjoyed several wines from the region recently and not been disappointed by a single one. The region absolutely merits further exploration.
At around $16 per bottle, Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio offers excellent value. We thank Creative Palate Communications for the opportunity to sample this interesting Pinot Grigio. It is delicious on its own and makes a perfect partner for food. Look for it.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th edition. Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding
Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz