If you drink Italian wine, or frankly if you drink white wine at all, you are well-acquainted with Pinot Grigio. The Italians took a noble grape called Pinot Gris out of Alsace, France and turned it into an international star. Like any well-marketed global superstar, the wine often has more style than substance.
White wines made from this mutation of Pinot Noir have a range of styles. Most cheap versions from the Delle Venezie DOC are pleasantly fruity and acidic, if a bit boring. There are much rounder and more substantial wines coming from the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige. These wines, along with Pinot Gris from France, are inevitably a bit pricier than Delle Venezie. I still seek them out, but they hit the top of the Pondering Italy sweet spot at $15-$25. The Tieffenbruner from Alto Adige is a great example found at my local shop Bacchus Manhattan Beach.
But it turns out there is another side to Italian Pinot Grigio. This one strikes a balance between the mass-produced Venezie versions and the fancier bottles. An inexpensive 2019 “ramato” Pinot Grigio DOC Friuli from Fratelli Cozza absolutely knocked my socks off this weekend.
I often forget that the words Grigio and Gris refer to a grape skin that is not white or green, but in fact deep bluish gray. Technically a white grape, Pinot Grigio could be mistaken as a red in the vineyard.
The ramato style uses that colorful skin to create a lightly tinged wine through extended skin contact. However, the results are unlike most rosé wines made from red grapes. Ramato is also quite different from the new-age “orange” wines made from white grapes popular in natural wine circles. Ramato means “copper” and it splits the difference between the sweetness of rosé and the body and grip of many orange wines.
Like everything in Italy, there’s an interesting history. Winemakers in Friuli made most of their Pinot Grigio in the ramato style until the 60s. As this Decanter article explains, the surging export popularity of the Santa Margherita brand and style inspired a change to white wine across the region.
While ramato may look like a rosé from Southern France, the resulting wine does not burst with red candied fruit. Instead, I found the flavors and aromas of a high-quality Pinot Grigio, but with more body and texture. The wine hit my tongue with a burst of orchard fruits and finished with lingering minerality.
I tried to pick out the unique flavors imparted by the ramato style, before I could confirm anything I’d be reaching for my next sip. I could not keep this wine in the glass. The wine started the evening as my aperitif but the remainder of the bottle sang wonderfully alongside our cod in parchment paper for dinner.
Ramato is everything I love about Italian wine. It represents an old practice made new again and a new spin on a very well-known grape. It’s also a flexible style, meaning the price will vary from reasonable to downright cheap. The only problem is that It turns out these wines are still difficult to find in the US.
Around LA I could only find an example at Wine House LA. At $22 it unfortunately sits outside the Pondering Italy standard for wine value. Some internet sleuthing also revealed that R&B singer Mary J Blige is making ramato with a famous winemaker in Friuli. It’s on wine.com for $20.
I sourced the Fratelli Cozza from the SoCal importer Italian Wine Select out of Orange County. This is the first of a range of wines purchased from them and I very much look forward to working through the rest. I will be seeking more ramato style Pinot Grigio in the future and I hope you will too.