Pinot Grigio has been the undisputed king of crowd-pleasing whites for a decade now – but it can't rule forever. Clinton Cawood joins a panel of sommeliers in search of the heir to its easy-drinking empire
Remember the collective incredulity in the wine trade when Pinot Grigio made its rapid and unexpected rise to ubiquity a few years ago? When consumers generally made it clear that they'd found the grape they wanted to drink, in large quantities, and that it wasn't Riesling or Grüner Veltliner...?
The trade couldn't work out whether it was PG's easy, straightforward style, or its accessible price point. Could it be that its secret was that it was relatively easy to pronounce, minimising any potential embarrassment in wine bars? It was probably a combination of all these factors. Either way, the grape has enjoyed huge successes ever since.
But here at Imbibe we're all about the future. Rather than spend time praising past success, we want to know which grape will take the crown from Pinot Grigio to become the next household name.
With this in mind, we selected three white-wine grapes that we figured might have what it takes, and let a team of sommeliers at Imbibe Live decide.
How it works
We selected three grape varieties that might have what it takes to be the next Pinot Grigio, based on style, accessibility and price – Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Vermentino. Imposing an upper limit of £9 ex-VAT (to test value for money and affordability), we called in examples from UK agents and tasted these blind with a team of sommeliers at this year's Imbibe Live. Tasters were only aware of the variety and price of each wine.
In addition to scoring each wine out of 20, tasters also rated each in three characteristics: saleability, mass appeal and value for money. Scores were collated to give totals out of 100. All prices given are ex-VAT trade and were correct at the time of tasting.
Ross Archibald, The Drouthy Cobbler; Giancarlo Cuccuru, Brackenbury Wine Rooms; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Davide Dall’Amico, The Royal Automobile Club; Alastair England, Zuma and Oblix; Jonathan Giffrin, China Tang; Andre Luis Martins, The Cavalry and Guards Club; Kelvin McCabe, Yauatcha; Gustavo Medina, Tate Britain; Roy Myers, Bluebird; Jemima Nathan, Fox Fine Wines; David Nichter, 45 Jermyn St; Christina Schneider, Som Saa; Douwe Steyn, Pitt Cue Co
5 Berton Vineyard Metal Vermentino 2015, South Eastern Australia
'An aromatic nose of orange and lemon-lime citrus notes, with pear and more citrus on the palate. A great wine for pairing with seafood such as calamari,' AE.
'Light on its feet, with some really appealing pithy lemon notes, and excellent texture. Bright and lovely,' CC.
£8.18, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
74 Villa Vallemaggiore Vermentino 2014, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
'Light and aromatic on the nose, with some spice, too, followed by well-balanced acidity on the palate,' DS.
'Tropical fruit and some spicy notes make this a great choice for Asian food, and it's good value, too,' GM.
£8, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550
74 Vinaceous, Impavido Vermentino 2015, Mount Barker, WA, Australia
'A chalky, candied citrus fruit note to start, with rich, ripe and juicy citrus to follow on the palate. A great wine, with possibly too much character to replace Pinot Grigio,' CC.
'Quite an austere style, with good balance on the palate, and some good acidity and flinty minerality,' DS.
£8.89, Aussie Rules, 0141 554 1887
70 Belguardo Vermentino 2015, Tuscany, Italy
'A sophisticated wine, with good fruit on both the nose and palate, and lovely acidity,' JN.
'Fresh yellow fruit aromas, followed by good citrus and floral notes. A crisp and fresh wine – quite complex, and yet still approachable, with a long finish,' DD.
£8.68, Maison Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380
70 Clos Cibonne, Cibonne Tentations 2014, Côtes de Provence, France
'Fresh and fruity on the nose, followed by a strong flavour of Brazil nut on the palate, along with some flowery notes. Interesting, with good freshness,' DD.
'Maybe a bit lean, but ultimately a nice, clean, fresh wine with good citrus notes – a perfect Pinot Grigio replacement,' CC.
£7.85, Red Squirrel Wine, 020 3490 1210
69 Cantina del Vermentino, Marmora Vermentino di Sardegna 2015, Sardinia, Italy
'Mint and soft peach aromas lead to a peppery, peachy palate, with refreshing acidity,' RM.
'A well-balanced wine, with fresh citrus fruit – would be good without food, or with light snacks,' DN.
£7.56, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
Andre Luis Martins,
The Cavalry and Guards Club
'The Vermentinos were very good summer wines – they were fresh and crisp, but also with perfume and elegance. These were aromatic wines, with good acidity to balance.'
Douwe Steyn, Pitt Cue Co
'The Vermentinos on offer here were my favourite across the range, with their summery, fruity notes.'
70 Les Vignes de L’Église Vermentino 2015, IGP Pays d’Oc, France
'This is characterised by primary fruit and refreshing acidity. A straightforward and easy wine to enjoy – which is exactly how Pinot Grigio became so famous,' JG.
'A light, vivacious and refreshing wine, with fresh, crisp green fruit like kiwi and lime, as well as some minerality,' CS.
£5.34, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
69 Chalk Hill Vermentino 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia
'Good citrus freshness, and relatively neutral in the mouth – an easy-drinking wine,' DN.
'From its aromatic nose to long, creamy finish, this is a versatile wine, well suited to food, as well as a by-the-glass offering,' GM.
£7.99, Matthew Clark, 0844 822 3901
66 Cantina di Dolianova Prendas Vermentino di Sardegna 2015, Sardinia, Italy
'Great balance between the citrus and fruit, with tropical and white pepper notes, and a long finish. Great as an aperitif, by the glass, while also being versatile for food,' GM.
'A fresh, crisp, slightly aromatic nose, with a musky note, leading to a pleasant, easy-drinking palate,' DD.
£7.45, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420
64 Adria Vini, Castanzu Vermentino di Sardegna 2014, Sardinia, Italy
'Simple primary fruit such as green apples, limes and gooseberries. A refreshing wine, thanks to a zesty acidity,' JG. 'A gentle, perfumed and aromatic wine, with fresh apple and citrus on the palate, leading to a refreshing, spicy finish,' AM.
£5.04, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300
72 Backsberg Chenin Blanc 2015, Simonsberg, South Africa
'Fresh floral and herbal aromas are joined by some gentle citrus on the nose. The palate follows with more citrus, as well as peach and honey, and a great spicy finish,' AM.
'Light, with lovely fresh green-apple fruit, not to mention good length and acidity,' RM.
£6.35, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550
72 Jérémie Mourat, OVNI Sacré Blanc 2015, IGP Val de Loire, France
'A fresh wine, with apple flavours and a floral character that would make it a good choice for bars,' GC.
'Apricot fruit on the nose leads to a crisp palate, with good acidity and nice apple fruit,' RM.
£7.95, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470
72 Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
'Peach and wild flowers on the nose. Ripe fruit and good acidity on the palate, with medium length,' DN.
'Beautiful fruit flavours on the palate, with acidity that isn't overpowering. The palate's dry, but with a softness to it,' RA.
£7.33, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800
71 Blackwater, The Underdog 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa
'Quite rich and spicy, with mango notes – not the most commercial style,' GC. 'Nectarine and mango start things off here, but the palate has all of the fresh lemon acidity you could ask for,' CC.
£8.80, Humble Grape, 020 3620 2202
70 Indaba Chenin Blanc 2016, Western Cape, South Africa
'White stone fruits on the nose lead to some floral notes on the palate, with balanced acidity,' JN.
'Crisp green apple on the nose, with a hint of flinty minerality, leading to a bone-dry palate with some good acidity,' RA.
£4.73, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188
68 Annex Kloof, Xenna Chenin Blanc 2016, Swartland, South Africa
'A restrained nose leads to an elegant palate, with lots of juicy citrus fruit, and finishing with some apple. A great price, too,' CC.
'Easy drinking, with refreshing acidity. This wine has a zesty palate, with a nice citrus finish,' JG.
£6.19, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490
Gustavo Medina, Tate Britain
'Out of the flights we tasted, I preferred the Chenin Blanc. It’s fruity and fun, with great
Jemima Nathan, Fox Fine Wines
'Chenin has saleability, but you need to be careful as there were some in the flight that were mediocre.'
66 Faraway Wines, Faraway Farm Chenin Blanc 2015, South Africa
'A crisp and aromatic wine, with apple and orange notes leading to some good acidity on the palate,' AE. 'Light, with fresh fruit on the nose, leading to citrus flavours with a touch of creaminess. Easy, with a long, fresh finish,' DD.
£5.41, Fine Wines Direct UK, 02920 787500
66 Laibach Vineyards, The Ladybird Chenin Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
'Fresh herbal and vegetal aromas lead to peach notes on the palate, as well as an elegant and gentle leafy character, and a long, mineral finish,' AM.
'Slight carbonation, and some good acidity. The finish builds slowly, and then leaves a pleasant, crisp mouthfeel,' RA.
£7.20, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550
63 False Bay Vineyards, Peacock Wild Yeast Chenin Blanc 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa
'Dry and grassy as well as perfumed, this is quite mellow, with a touch of lees evident – this is quite a gastronomic wine,' DD.
'Citrus and flowers on the nose, combined with elegant vegetal notes and a tropical element. Jammy peach and light honey notes join on the palate, leading to a refreshing finish. It would be great with cool salads,' AM.
£5.29, Boutinot, 0161 908 1361
63 Raats Family Wines, Original Chenin Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa
'Quite dry and mineral on the nose, leading to some fresh fruit and more minerality on the crisp and fresh palate. Easy drinking and refreshing, with a grassy finish,' DD. 'Straightforward primary fruits such as grapefruit are found in abundance here, with a good balance of acidity, finishing with wax and honeysuckle,' JG.
£8, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060
77 Cazes, Le Canon du Maréchal (Muscat, Muscat d'Alexandria and Viognier), IGP Côtes Catalanes, France
'An aromatic, floral nose with juniper and elderflower notes on the palate, along with a citrus character on the long finish,' GM.
'Bright and fresh peach and nectarine on the nose, leading to an unexpectedly light palate. This certainly wouldn't need food,' CC.
£8.19, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
70 Domaines Astruc Muscat Sec 2014, Pays d’Oc, France
'Apple, smoke and farmyard aromas lead to clean apple notes on the light, fresh palate,' RM.
'Blueberry flower on the nose, followed by quite a crunchy palate, with green apple and lime cordial notes. Crisp, simple and approachable, with a long finish,' DD.
£6.19, Côté Mas London, 020 7484 0554
70 Domaine Heywang Muscat 2012, Alsace, France
'Dry and aromatic on the nose, with balsamic and herbs, as well as yellow apple and some acacia notes. This is pleasant to drink, with a lively aroma, good acidity and a long finish,' DD.
'Quite a perfumed wine, but one that's crisp thanks to its refreshing acidity. The alcohol balances the fruit, and brings structure and body. Great taste, and great value,' JG.
£8, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550
David Nichter, 45 Jermyn St
'I though the Muscats would be a hard sell. I found the fruitier examples interesting, but they’re not for the masses.'
Christina Schneider, Som Saa
'There were a lot of reasons to instantly love the aromatic Muscats. Their bold, fruity noses and general accessibility made this flight a winner for me. People do seem to be going for more fragrant wines nowadays, and the Muscats certainly deliver that!'
68 Juan Gil Moscatel Seco 2015, Jumilla, Spain
'Tropical fruits like lychee, mango and passion fruit, as well as not-so tropical ones such as green apples. There's some good texture and body on this too,' CS.
'Fresh and elegantly musky on the nose. The palate's quite dry, with a touch of acacia flowers, and quite a fat texture,' DD.
£6.79, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300
66 Tetramythos Muscat Sec 2015, Achaia, Greece
'Vanilla, white chocolate, cream and peach melba – a distinct and pleasant nose. There's big acidity at first on the palate, but what remains is the creamy note from the nose,' CS.
'There's plenty of acidity, not to mention tropical fruit notes, leading to a very dry finish,' RA.
£7.32, Eclectic Wines, 020 8788 4048
65 Cooperativa Agricola Santo Isidro de Pegôes, Stella Blanco Dry Muscat 2015, Península de Setúbal, Portugal
'This opens with green apple notes, with some white flower aromas as well. That green apple character continues on the palate, with rich elderflower notes, too,' AM.
'Woodruff and green bananas meet rose petals on this extremely fragrant nose. A nice, easy, fruity sipper that doesn't need food, just a bunch of girls wanting to have a good time,' CS.
£5.78, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
1st – Vermentino (75%)
Mass appeal: 78%
Value for money: 74%
Average wine score: 70%
2nd – Chenin Blanc (72%)
Mass appeal: 72%
Value for money: 75%
Average wine score: 68%
3rd – Muscat(72%)
Mass appeal: 69%
Value for money: 75%
Average wine score: 68%
Of the three grapes on offer, Vermentino consistently offered the style our tasters were looking for in a Pinot Grigio successor. The wines were appealing, fruity and fresh, without (in a good way) any undue complexity.
While it’s definitely an advantage for Vermentino to be made in both the New and Old World, we didn’t see a marked difference in style between the two. Overall, the Vermentinos here might not have been as citrus-led as Pinot Grigio, but they almost all showed clean, distinct fruit, in a very approachable way.
Muscat didn’t offer an accessible enough style, though some thought its distinctive character was a point in its favour. Chenin Blanc, generally fruit forward and accessible and not lacking in fans on our panel, didn’t always seem to be at its best at this price point – and some examples (such as the Raats) were too grown-up to
be PG replacements.
The Chenin flight was almost entirely from South Africa, with one exception from France, which scored as well as the best example from the Cape. French Muscats dominated in their category, with better scores than examples from Spain, Greece and Portugal. The top-scoring Vermentinos hailed from either Australia or Italy.