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Winemaker says pinot grigio tops 'ordinary' whites

China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-29 07:27

Tipple Talk | Mathew Scott

We are driving past lush green fields and on toward the Italian commune of Dolegna del Collio when Giampaolo Venica points to the hillside off to the right of the road.

It is there, Venica says, that his great-grandfather Daniele came in 1930 and laid down the foundations of what would soon become the Venica & Venica winery.

Today we find around 55 individual plots of vines spread out across the property's seven rolling hills, with a range of grape varieties including local favorites Friulano and Magliocco.

But today we have made the trip out to this winery in Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region - about a three-hour drive out of Venice - to focus on a wine long savored in this region and one that has in recent years won global fame.

The light, crisp, dry white wine known as pinot grigio produced in this region can trace its history back to when the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte came marching through from France in the early 1800s, bringing with them all the necessities of life, including cuttings of the vines needed to make the wine that, presumably, would keep their soldiers happy.

"It was the French who first brought the grapes here but what we have now is unique to our region and we have found pinot grigio is suited here in terms of both the local conditions and the local tastes," says Venica.

As China's own taste for wine continues to grow at extraordinary rates, so too has the country's interest in white wines such as pinot grigio, according to the people at Vinexpo, the world's premier wine-industry gathering, which hosted its 2013 edition in Bourdeaux, France, in June.

Vinexpo's studies show China's overall consumption of white wine grew by more than 53 percent from 2007 to 2011, when 12.36 million cases were consumed over the year. And the organization predicts a further growth in consumption of more than 56 percent from now until 2016.

"Today, imported wines account for almost 20 percent of the full volume of wine drunk in China and are worth 44.42 percent of the total retail value of wines sold in China," explains Robert Beynat, chief executive of Vinexpo. "France remains the leading supplier of Chinese market, following by Australia, Spain and the Italy. Three of these four countries - Spain being the exception - are famous for their pinot grigio.

At the Venica winery, our host explains the traditions of making pinot grigio, and how his winery sticks to a method that gently macerates the grapes, pressing them under the CO2 that prevents oxidations while maintaining the natural pink/orange color of the juice.

"You'll find that the darker the color, the more intense the flavor," explains Venica. "And the cheaper the wine, the less color you will have in your pinot grigio."

The company credits its quality and success to the family's wine-making traditions, plus an ideal climate. Cultivated between the nearby Alps and the Adriatic Sea, this region's vines are treated to cool nights and hot days.

"It's ironic that the things you hear us complaining about every day the cold at night and the heat in the day are the things that make this wine so good," says Venica.

It should come as no surprise to learn that the pinot grigio here pairs wonderfully with local delicacies such as the famed asparagus risotto. Venica says a few glasses provide the perfect accompaniment to any fresh seafood dish.

"Pinot grigio is a wine that complements the food, and helps enhance its flavors," he says. "But it is also a wine that very much stands on its own, too."

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