Four well-priced alternatives to Pinot Grigio

John Wilson: Italy’s Veneto makes wines just as good (and better) than its famous names

Not every wine deserves the spectacular praise heaped on it by critics, producers and those involved in sales. Many wines are fine and nothing more, although writing that is unlikely to enthuse readers or customers.

In my own notes, I mark them simply as GWMW (good, well-made wine) or GBNG (good, but not great). In my book, the former is slightly superior to the latter. At some tastings these account for 80 per cent or more of the wines. This is not a criticism , depending on the price of course. For €10 or less, you cannot ask for more than a balanced, fruity wine without any faults.

More recently I have added WB (why bother) for the stream of watery, confected, mawkish wines that come my way. At €10 to €15, I am looking for something that delivers just that little bit extra.

The Veneto region in northeast Italy produces some six million hectolitres of wine every year. It takes in some of the most famous names, including Soave, Valpolicella, Bardolino and part of Prosecco. It also supplies the market with huge quantities of Pinot Grigio. Many of these wines, red and white, fall into the GBNG category; perfectly drinkable but nothing to get us too excited. There is no shortage of WB either and, of course, there are plenty of very enjoyable wines too – a cut above the GBNGs.


In the recent good weather, I have been drinking a lot of light white wines from this part of Italy. If you spend €10-€20, the quality rises dramatically. While I have nothing against Pinot Grigio, this region has plenty of other grapes that are as good and, in some cases, better. The Italians have always enjoyed more neutral wines, light in aroma, alcohol and fruit, with no oak ageing. The best have understated fruits and genuine depth. They make for delicious summery food wines with salads or plain fish dishes, or simply wines to sip before dinner.

I covered Soave Classico last October, and this sub-region of the less impressive Soave area produces some great wines. The primary grape here is Garganega; despite being widely planted in the Veneto (and in Sicily) very few people have heard of this variety. If yields are kept low it can produce excellent, long-lived subtle dry wines with lightly floral aromas, and citrus, grilled almonds, peaches and apples on the palate.

The nearby regions of Custoza and Gambarella produce increasingly good Garganega-based wines too. In addition to the wines I feature here, look out for the Lugana, Soave and Custoza from Zenato, (€15.95- €19.95) available from and independent retailers.

La Cavea Pinot Bianco Garganega 2019, IGT Veneto
12.5%, €12.99

An appetising, light, fresh, crisp, dry white with clean apple fruits. Perfect for large gatherings, to drink either before a meal, or with summer salads and seafood dishes. 
From The Cinnamon Cottage, Cork,; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; J.J. O'Driscoll, Ballinlough,; La Touche, Greystones,; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries; The Village Greengrocer, Castlemartyr;

Soave Mito 2017, Monte Tondo
12%, €12.99

A very enjoyable, lightly textured wine with quince and pineapple fruits, good acidity and a crisp dry finish. Before dinner, or alongside spaghetti and clams.
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8,; Listons, Dublin 2,; Cass & Co., Dungarvan,

Garganega 2019, Cantina di Negrar, IGT Verona
12%, €14.50-15.00

Subtle almonds, lively green fruits and refreshing lemon zest. Solo, with herby pasta dishes or antipasti. 
From La Touche, Greystones,; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Galway,; Martin's Off Licence, Dublin 3,; Cass & Co., Dungarvan,;

Custoza Boscaroi 2018, Monte dei Roari, (Organic)
12%, €18-19

A very seductive wine with plenty of citrus balancing the harmonious pear and apple fruits. Perfect as an aperitif, with grilled hake or a goat's cheese salad.
From Eleven Deli, Greystones,; 64wine, Glasthule,; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel,; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Galway,; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8,;