Paul Howard Articles, Blog, Italy

Pinot Grigio - distinctively different

Distinctively Different Collio Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio

This final report from the Collio DOC features two world-famous grape varieties. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are now household names. Both enjoy huge recognition and commercial success worldwide. Accordingly, both of them have also become popular in the vineyards of Collio DOC. Here, the hillside terroir and Ponca soil create excellent varietal wines that are distinctively different from more familiar paradigms. And this makes a most refreshing change! For those unfamiliar with Collio DOC, there’s a scene-setting piece here.

Collio Mappa

Map of Collio – distinctively different

This article concentrates on wines available in the UK. There are many more examples in Collio than those cited here. Though they are unavailable in the UK, it’s reason enough to visit the area!

Furthermore, as demand is high for commercial Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc in the UK, colossal volume is available, and competition, particularly on price, is fierce. Furthermore, while varietal recognition is high, this also means that our perception of quality tends to veer towards the ordinary, and excellent examples can be overlooked.

On the positive side, these high-quality Collio wines show individuality and a sense of place. It’s worth tracking down!

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio has a quarter of all vineyard plantings in the Collio DOC. This figure reflects how this grape variety has captured the imagination of wine drinkers in Italy and further afield. Although mass-produced commercial Pinot Grigio can often be bland, favouring quantity over quality, the Collio producers concentrate on coaxing the best from this grape variety. They know they must compete on quality and cannot make new vineyards to make more, so consequently, Collio Pinot Grigio is among Italy’s best. Colour, aroma, flavour and food-friendliness may not be the usual attributes of Pinot Grigio, but they are in Collio!

Pighin,  Pinot Grigio,  DOC Collio,  2022

At Spessa di Capriva, 180 metes asl, Ponca soil, stainless steel. Yellowish, a slightly lactic floral nose, a remarkably silken texture. Fully dry, rounded and full-bodied, reflecting a warm vineyard site. More alcohol (14%) and enough acidity to balance with quince fruit and a saline finish. In style, it resembles the Pinot Gris of Alsace: London Wine Deliveries, £18.61.

Conti Formentini,  Pinot Grigio,  DOC Collio,  2022

At San Floriano, a cooler site that faces Slovenia, at up to 250 metres. Ponca soil, stainless steel. Water white, star bright. White flowers aroma. Pear and bruised apple flavours, with the texture of silken sheets. Less alcohol (13%), more acidity. It has excellent poise and a long almond finish. Great value, too. Vinissimo, £14.83.

Muzic,  Pinot Grigio,  DOC Collio,  2022

At San Floriano, high up and old vines. Stainless steel. Bright, greenish-hued. Acacia aromatics (lees ageing?). Pithy intensity to the fruit. Moderate alcohol (13.5%). Baked pears, a little nutmeg, long saline finish. Tannico, £18.41.

Tenuta Borgo Conventi,  Pinot Grigio,  DOC Collio,  2021

Owned by Villa Sandi, at Farra d’Isonzo. Yellowish, with a hint of copper, a nose reminiscent of potpourri, sweet-spot alcohol (13.5%). Ripe pear fruit, attractive bread crust note and a long almond finish. Tannico, £18.44.

Castello di Spessa,  Pinot Grigio,  Joy,  DOC Collio,  2021

At Capriva del Friuli, a lower and warmer site, Stainless steel, Ponca soil. Onion skin coppery colour, floral nose, a little honey. Ripeness on the palate, reflected in higher alcohol (14.5%), yet balanced and not intrusive. Fruit reminiscent of baked pears, pastry, custard and nutmeg, a Yorkshire Curd tart in a glass! Silky acidity and almonds to end. Well named, Joy indeed! Xtrawine, £22.56.

Sauvignon Blanc

Years ago, the French elegant grassy style of Sauvignon Blanc ruled alone, typified by Sancerre in the Loire. Then New Zealand suddenly produced their unique style from Marlborough that became successful almost overnight – with more power, aroma and fruit. Meanwhile, many other regions and countries have emulated those styles with varying degrees of success. However, with notable exceptions, the Loire in France and Marlborough in New Zealand remain aspirational for most.

But there is a third way that occupies a space between the two summits without copying either, typified by the Sauvignon from DOC Collio. Their vines often originated in France, while the locally developed R3 vine clone is a popular choice and seems to emphasise an attractive tomato leaf aroma. If you need clarification on this scent, pop into a greenhouse where tomatoes grow! Sauvignon now covers 18% of the Collio vineyard area. The wines are usually bone dry and unoaked, though there are some oaked and amphora versions.

Conti Formentini,  Caligo,  Sauvignon,  DOC Collio,  2022

San Floriano. Greenish colour. Herbaceous nose, green peas, mint and a whiff of tomato leaf. The palate has grapefruit, gooseberry and peach, with moderate alcohol (13%). Long, zesty finish. Vinissimo, £13.81.

Castello di Spessa,  Segrè,  Sauvignon, DOC Collio,  2021

Capriva del Friuli. It has remarkable complexity, a big, powerful wine (14%) with a powerful aroma of tomato leaf (is this the R3 clone?). The palate has peach, maybe nectarine, with a green figgy edge. Power and intensity, a hint of fennel and salt on a long finish. Xtrawine £20.76.

Food matching

Both these Collio grape varieties make wines that are versatile food partners. We often enjoy Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc in the UK without food. Instead, try Risotto – the Pinot Grigio with Porcini mushrooms or the Sauvignon with asparagus or peas. Fish and seafood make for natural partners, too.

A personal favourite for both wines is Buratta. The picture below shows it served with Prosciutto di San Danielle at the Osteria Koršič in San Floriano.

Burrata and Prosciutto - distinctively different

Burrata and Prosciutto – distinctively different

Final Thoughts

In summary, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc wines in the UK are so familiar that it can be easy to dismiss them. Consequently, these examples from the Collio are a timely reminder that these grape varieties can also make distinctively different versions that, while being varietally recognisable, have something extra to offer – that’s terroir talking.

Once again, I’d like to thank all the Consorzio producers I met.


Follow these links to more articles about Collio wines: Friulano and Ribolla Gialla.

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