I've rarely been as embarrassed when ordering wine as I was the month I drank just Pinot Grigio. The withering stare of the sommelier, the hasty retrieval of the wine list ("Wasted on you" the gesture seemed to imply) were almost enough to make me reconsider my request. But I had a mission: to taste as many Pinot Grigios as possible in the hope of finding some truly good wines—even if it meant humiliation and scorn.
Of course, there are plenty of people with very positive feelings about Pinot Grigio. After all, it's the most popular imported wine in this country: More than 6 million cases were sold in 2002, accounting for an impressive 12 percent of all imported wines. And those numbers have only increased: Sales of Pinot Grigio rose almost 40 percent that year and have likely grown larger yet as a boom in domestic Pinot Grigios gets under way (more than 7,000 acres of Pinot Grigio were planted in California in 2004, an increase of 20 percent from 2003). Indeed, Pinot Grigio may soon be more fashionable than Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that's been planted in just about every viable piece of vineyard land in the world (Uruguayan Sauvignon, anyone?).
Yet Pinot Grigio remains more consistently maligned by wine professionals and collectors than Chardonnay and Merlot combined. It's hard to find a serious wine drinker, let alone a sommelier, willing to put in a good word for the grape. Innocuous and uninteresting are two words I've heard so often I half expect to find them on a back label: "An innocuous, uninteresting wine. Pair with pasta, chicken and fish."