At last, it’s summer. We’re all for summertime relaxation and the easier, lighter drinks that come with it; but that doesn’t mean you have to sip any chilled wine with a modest ABV — especially when it comes to Pinot Grigio. If you’re old enough to juggle multiple Crate & Barrel registries, you’re old enough to drink Pinot Grigio with character. Lucky for you, summer is the perfect season to fall back in love with this varietal.
“Pinot Grigio is actually an underestimated grape,” says Tara Empson, owner and CEO of global wine exporter Empson & Co. She grew up in Italy in a family of American expats who built their lives on Italian wine. “Pinot Grigio has been a popular varietal in the U.S. marketplace for years; unfortunately, the popularity has created a mass-production of this wine and the quality has suffered over time. It (Pinot Grigio) has structure, complexity, and a lot more dimension on the palate — if it’s produced right.”
Neil and Maria Empson, Tara’s parents and founders of Empson & Co., actually began making their Bollini Pinot Grigio in response to the low quality they encountered in the United States. As young wine exporters, says Tara, “they used to travel a lot, and they’d observe the market in the U.S. And if a wine was affordable [like Pinot Grigio], it was not always the best quality.”
The pursuit of quality Italian wine was why they’d upended their lives, moved to Italy, and started a business, “so Mom and Dad said, ‘Why don’t we give the consumer a stepping stone?’” Namely, Pinot Grigio at a good value with exponentially more character.
That idea became Bollini Pinot Grigio, an expressive varietal white wine born in the craggy slopes of the Trentino DOC in northeast Italy, hand-picked at lower yields. Currently exported to 28 countries around the globe, Bollini Pinot Grigio delivers in ways that inexpensively produced summer bottles don’t. Basically, it’s the crisp summer white wine for when the “ish” comes off of “adult.” “We wanted an everyday Pinot Grigio with character and substance, finesse and elegance,” Tara says.
One way they got there: elevation. “Pinot Grigio from the valley will have high yields and lower concentration,” Tara says. “The flavor profile will be over-watered, over-pampered. The juice they deliver is usually very monotone.” Bollini, on the other hand, comes from the Dolomites, the mountain range in the Italian Alps that dominates Trentino terroir.
“It’s an amazing area,” says Tara. Bollini Pinot Grigio grapes grow at anywhere from 700 to 1,700 feet above sea level, in “alluvial and rocky soils [that are] gravelly and rich in minerals.”
Add temperature excursion — the drastic shift in day and night temperatures — and “we get some great aromatics in the wine,” Tara says. “The vines are in mineral soil, in a very steep, dramatic landscape. But as the saying goes, when the vine suffers, you make the best wine.” Think of it this way: These grapes that grow in cold, sloping, rocky soil develop more character than grapes on a flat valley floor soaking up the sun.
Production is another key point of differentiation. Bollini Pinot Grigio “is styled by our winemaker Franco Bernabei to my father’s specifications,” says Tara. “After alcoholic fermentation, the wine goes through a malolactic fermentation, which gives it a lot more complexity.” Malolactic fermentation isn’t a requirement, “it’s a choice. It gives a softness, a roundness to the wine.” In fact the overall flavor of Bollini Pinot Grigio from Trentino has less sharp citrus and more fragrant apple. “The wine has to reflect the area, and apples from Trentino are the most well-known in Italy,” Tara says, “though it does have citrus fruit, great acidity, and minerality, which actually kicks in as the wine ages.”
All of which means delicious pairing possibilities, especially in summer. One easy match: Bollini Pinot Grigio loves seafood (think sushi and sashimi, fried oyster po’ boys, that way-too-ambitious clambake you’re planning). It goes well with other proteins, too, like pork and chicken. “Asian food also works beautifully,” says Tara.
Of course one of the nicest things about summer drinking is you don’t need an occasion to break out a decent bottle; the season is the occasion. “If you enjoy Pinot Grigio, there’s no limit to it,” Tara says.
This article is sponsored by Bollini.