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Pinot grigio, all too often, is Italian for boring. Clean, nondescript white wine, refreshing at best but with little else to offer. But climb away from the sea of plonk into the mountains of northern Italy and you can find pinot grigio with distinction, coursing with an energy that seems to come from the mountains themselves. The Cantina Tramin 2017, one of this week’s recommendations, is a fine example, hailing from near Italy’s border with Austria.
Outside Italy, the same grape is often labeled as pinot gris, the French name, and this can be an indication of style. Alsace produces rich, sometimes sweet, pinot gris, while Oregon strikes a (dry) stylistic middle between Alsace and Italy. The Villa Wolf Pinot Gris, from Germany’s Pfalz region, is more Italian in style. It doesn’t pack the punch of the Tramin, but its price makes it a no-brainer to stock up. For additional cred, it’s made by Ernst Loosen, one of Germany’s most renowned winemakers.
This week’s recommendations also include the delicious Lord Sandwich White 2017, from Smith Story Wines in Sonoma County, which benefits charities for women and children affected by domestic violence. Red lovers will enjoy a perfumed red from Priorat in Spain and an affordably priced pinot noir from Oregon.
Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy, $17
The best pinot grigios come from the mountains in the north, especially Alto Adige. This version is racy and minerally, with bright fruit and energy. Consider it the wine equivalent of a shot of espresso. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported by Winebow, distributed by Winebow in the District, Country Vintner in Maryland and Virginia. Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Eye Street Cellars, Rodman’s; on the list at Bombay Club, Brasserie Beck, the Capital Burger, Grilled Oyster Co., La Tomate, New Heights, San Lorenzo. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda; on the list at Brix & Vine in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Norm’s Beer & Wine in Vienna; on the list at the Palladium in McLean, Pazzo Pomodoro in Ashburn and Vienna.
Pfalz, Germany, $13
This wine by Ernst Loosen shows more Italian pinot grigio style than the richness of pinot gris from Alsace (they’re the same grape). This is bright and citrusy, perhaps with less mineral character than the Cantina Tramin but a touch more exuberance. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported by Loosen Bros. USA, distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at Cairo Wine & Liquor, Rodman’s; on the list at Cafe Berlin, Flight, O-ku Sushi. Available in Maryland at Beers & Cheers Too and Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Bradley Food & Beverage and Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda, Old Town Market in Kensington, the Tasting Room Wine Bar & Shop at National Harbor, Wells Discount Liquors and Wine Source in Baltimore; on the list at Not Your Average Joe’s in Bethesda, Gaithersburg and Silver Spring. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Cheesetique and Unwined in Alexandria, Wegmans (various locations); on the list at Not Your Average Joe’s in Reston, Old House Cosmopolitan Grill in Alexandria.
Sonoma County, Calif., $22
Good news: Smith Story wines are now distributed in the Washington area. The Lord Sandwich white, named for the winemakers’ goldendoodle, who serves as the social media face of the wine brand, is a delicious blend of sauvignon blanc, verdelho and chardonnay. Under the Smith Story label, they also have an excellent (2 star) riesling from Germany’s Rheinhessen and an extraordinary (3 star) chardonnay from Dutton Ranch in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. ABV: 14 percent.
Distributed by Lanterna: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Paul’s of Chevy Chase. Available in Maryland at Crescent Beer & Wine in Bowie, Gilly’s Craft Beer & Fine Wine in Rockville, Spirits of Mt. Vernon in Baltimore, Wine Bin in Ellicott City, Wine Cellars of Annapolis, the Wine Harvest (Gaithersburg, Potomac).
Priorat, Spain, $25
Priorat is known for heady, high-alcohol reds from garnacha (grenache), grown on slate soils called “llicorella” in hills near the Mediterranean coast in northeastern Spain. This intriguing example offers attractive perfume of roasted fruits and wild herbs, and a sense of adventure. ABV: 14.5 percent.
Imported by Artisans & Vines, distributed in the District by Hop & Wine, in Maryland by Artisans & Vines, and in Virginia by Hop & Wine and LK Wine Tours and Sales: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Grand Cata, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Available in Maryland at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg; Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring; Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville. Available in Virginia at Aldie Peddler in Aldie, Altura Wine & Gourmet and Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Bonnie Blue Southern Market & Bakery in Winchester.
Willamette Valley, Ore., $24
Averaen is an affordably priced pinot noir that gives a true taste of Oregon character. Think deep ruby wine with flavors of cherries, cranberries and damson plums. The price makes it especially popular with restaurants. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Central Liquors, Rodman’s, Wagshal’s Deli, Wardman Wines, Whole Foods Markets (various locations); on the list at several restaurants. Available in Maryland at Bo Brooks Lighthouse Liquors in Baltimore; Downtown Crown Wine and Beer, and Shady Grove Beer and Wine in Gaithersburg; Franklin Liquors in Ijamsville; Georgetown Square Wine and Beer in Bethesda; Gourmet Wine & Spirits and Sunny’s Fine Wine & Liquors in Sykesville; Old Town Market in Kensington; Rollins Berr-Wine-Deli in Rockville; on the list at several restaurants. Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Cheesetiqueand Fern Street Gourmet in Alexandria, Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Locke Store in Millwood, Whole Foods Market (various locations); on the list at several restaurants.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.