Two little words are all it takes to strike self-regarding wine enthusiasts with equal parts fear and loathing: “Pinot grigio.” What better signifier of weakness, ignorance, glibness, artifice? What quicker bait for disdain and sarcasm?

Not without reason. I recently ate at my neighbors’ home, and the first wine was a supermarket Pinot grigio. I’d been tasting a bunch of other (interesting) PGs, and was aghast (but not surprised) at how limp, soulless and depressing this wine was; I left resolved to publicize the availability of interesting expressions of this grape – some of it costing a dollar or two more than the supermarket dreck.

Like “Soave,” “Champagne” or “Beaujolais,” Pinot grigio – the clone of Pinot gris grown in Italy – has become a commodity grape grown for mass-marketed wines instead of quality vinification, and “pinot grigio” is a nondescript brand that customers fall to in ignorance.

But just as with the bland variations of those other fantastic wines, this phenomenon has done nothing to diminish the astonishing complexity and diversity to be found in real-deal Pinot grigio. Not only does the real deal still exist, it’s available for reasonable prices in an astonishing variety of styles.

The overview below travels a roughly lean-to-full route. The spectrum swings from bracingly acidic Pinot grigio to thrillingly floral Pinot gris, and the wines are perfect for light, summery meals that include raw vegetables, fruits, shrimp and simple fish preparations – or at the riper end, scallops and lobster.
(Note: In parentheses after each wine is its Maine distributor, to aid stores in ordering it. Prices may vary, depending on where you shop.)

Sydney Ann Pinot Grigio del Veneto 2009, Veneto, Italy, $13 (Devenish)
The Veneto, Alto Adige and Trentino regions make up Italy’s northeastern corner and produce the best Pinot grigio. This one wine provides a terrific summary of what quality PG can do: A pear-y nose dissolves into steely, saline mid-palate, then explodes into tropicalia and honeysuckle on the finish.

Corte Giara Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2008, Veneto, Italy $10 (National)
Gentle, breezy wine – perfect for apertivo time. It’s all high notes, like lemon-lime sparkling spring water and that refreshing. Hints of peach, lychee and even marshmallow, but the overall tone is lean.

Giocato Pinot Grigio 2008, Primorska, Slovenia, $12 (Mariner)
Slovenia borders Italy’s PG zone, so un-arch your eyebrows; this is terrific wine. A nervy, herbal, granitic wine perfect for light, cool Italian dishes: marinated beans, roasted vegetables, etc.

Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio 2008, Alto Adige, Italy, $19 (Pine State)
Anyone I’ve drunk this wine with is utterly blown away by it. Not so much “tropical” as it is, in fact, the tropics themselves: the full, humid, floral, dense experience of being there … how you luxuriate in those feelings, how they stay with you. Sexual, lush, profound.

Wallace Brook Pinot Gris 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $9 (National)
Nine bucks for a wine this integrated is insane – rather, anyone who pays $9 for generic PG when this is available is him- or herself insane. None of the watery PG problem, none of the anonymity, none of the overripeness of some (even pricier) Pinot gris. Instead, balance at all levels: stonefruit/melon and minerality, white flowers and ginger, satin-y softness and acidity. A revelation.

Morgan Pinot Gris 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, California, $16 (Nappi)
Ah the sea – warm sand between toes, salt on lips, crushed shells. Real apricot-y nose, slight vanilla, orange blossom. Four months’ aging in neutral oak bequeaths strength, stability and a curvy, long finish. This has the complexity of the Abbazia di Novacella though less voluptuously. Worth the price but could even be available locally for less, so check!

Joe Appel’s day job is doing lots of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. He can be reached at
[email protected]