Italian winemaker Giovanni Bonmartini Fini shares the surprising ways he makes the most of this popular (and incredibly versatile) white wine. Better buy two bottles.
Full disclosure: I don’t love pinot grigio. I know, I know—that’s practically blasphemy here in the US, where pinot grigio is consistently in the top 5 most popular wines, and is the #2 white behind chardonnay. It’s no wonder: Pinot grigio is a dry white with a crisp, clean taste, which earns it a reputation as being “drinkable” and also makes it very versatile in cooking. (You can’t say that about polarizing chardonnay.) In fact, I always keep a bottle in the fridge, ready to pour whenever friends come over or I’m whipping up one of my favorite fast meals, shrimp scampi.
But from now on, I might have to keep two bottles on hand at all times. I had a chance to spend time in the kitchen with Italian winemaker Giovanni Bonmartini Fini, whose vineyard, Barone Fini, produces pinot grigio with the DOC certification (meaning it’s produced in the traditional geographic region and according to exacting Italian standards). Bonmartini used his pinot grigio in recipes I’d never thought to add wine to, including pasta carbonara so yummy I broke my no-meat rule to take a bite (ok, two)! He shared some of his favorite ways to use pinot grigio—in cooking, baking, and bartending.
1. In pasta carbonara. You won’t find this step in most recipes, but Bonmartini-Fini adds a splash of his own pinot grigio to the pan after sautéing the pancetta for this quintessential Italian pasta dish. “By themselves, the browned cubes of smoked pancetta tend to have a gamey aftertaste,” says Bonmartini Fini. “So I splash a bit of my pinot grigio into the pan and let it boil off—and it eliminates the gamey flavor.” Leaving pure pancetta deliciousness behind.
2. In chicken cacciatore. Here in the states we’re more familiar with the tomato-based version of this classic chicken dish, but Bonmartini Fini prefers to make pollo alla cacciatora in bianco. “It’s chicken with white sauce that I prepare based on lightly sautéed aglio/olio/pepperoncino—garlic, oil, and red chiles,” he says. “I add some olives and cook it for a long time with a full bottle of pinot grigio, then add lots of fresh rosemary ten minutes before its finished.”
3. In fish dishes. The same way a generous splash of pinot grigio enhances the flavor of pancetta, it brings out the clean taste of the fish and gives a dish a light white wine finish. “The wine’s naturally balanced acidity and minerality cuts any ‘fishy’ taste,” says Bonmartini Fini.
4. In pie and tart crust. I'd heard of using vodka to create a tender pie crust, but this tip was a new one. The science seems similar—unlike water, alcohol doesn’t create gluten when mixed with flour, and overworking gluten can make baked goods tough, so less gluten would make your crust more tender. Plus, the pinot grigio itself would add a touch of sweetness to the crust. Bonmartini Fini says using pinot grigio in place of the water in a classic pie crust recipe will make for a flakier end result.
5. In any recipe that calls for red wine. “You can always use pinot grigio instead of red wine, says Bonmartini Fini. “The pinot grigio grape is actually a red grape that is lightly pressed—resulting in a white wine.” He does point out that if you’re relying on red wine for color in a dish, you won’t get it (so your coq au vin or Bolognese sauce will be lighter in color).
6. In cocktails. When was the last time you had a white wine spritzer? If it’s been a while, it’s a drink worth revisiting. “My favorite is a Fini Spritz, with just club soda and wine,” says Bonmartini Fini. “The mixing ratio can vary from one-third wine for a light alcoholic aperitivo, to two-thirds wine and one-third soda for more cocktail strength. It’s also fantastic with a touch of any freshly-pressed fruit juice, from berries to peaches and apricots, and even apples.” (After mixing up a Fini Spritz myself, I can honestly say I'm now a fan!)
Or try his recipe for a Barone Fini Blackberry Basil cocktail: In a glass pitcher large enough to hold a bottle of wine, muddle 16 fresh blackberries and 8 basil leaves, then gently stir in a chilled bottle of pinot grigio. Pour over glasses of ice, and garnish with a whole blackberry and small leaf of basil. “You can also add a little vodka if you want to give it a kick,” adds Bonmartini Fini.