The Value of a Vintner Who Stays the Course

Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, 2016
Venezie, Italy, $12

For years, I had been reluctant to try Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, and I’m sorry to say I was prejudiced and foolish.

Perhaps I was put off by inexpensive, mass-produced Pinot Grigio, wines too sweet for my tastes. Maybe, it was the modern, slick-looking bottle that I see everywhere. I thought it can’t be that good. There’s too much of it.

So, I avoided the most popular Pinot Grigio in U.S. restaurants until recently. After all, what do the masses know? Apparently, a lot more than I do.

Ecco Domani, which means “here’s tomorrow” in Italian, is a crisp, dry wine that’s full of tropical fruit flavors and floral aromas. The light, moderate alcohol wine has enough flavor to make it great to drink from spring until winter, and perhaps even after the snow flies.

The reason Ecco Domani is so good and consistent is the winemaker. There has been only one at the helm since the wine’s conception more than two decades ago.

Young, talented winemakers, particularly those who work for large corporations, often move around from winery to winery, so it’s rare to find one who has been at the same post very long, but Ecco Domani winemaker Fatrizio Gatto is the exception.

Much to the credit of Ecco Domani producer E&J Gallo Winery, Gatto has been allowed to make a quality wine that has built his reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and respected winemakers in Italy.

Gallo created Ecco Domani in 1996, making the wine entirely from purchased grapes, and at the time, the international wine giant had no wines produced outside of the United States, the company’s website says.

When Gallo approached Gatto, who has advanced degrees in enology and had worked in wineries in France and the United States, he was an academic enologist, conducting experiments on 1,000 grape varieties. He knew the winegrowers in northeast Italy’s Venezie region, where the best Pinot Grigio is grown, and Gallo needed to buy grapes.

“The good thing Gallo did was leave me free to do what I liked,” Gatto said during a 2016 interview with the blog The Gray Report.

In the late 1990s, oak flavoring was all the rage in the U.S. market. Gatto didn’t use oak in his Pinot Grigio, and Gallo didn’t interfere. It apparently was a smart move on the part of the company.

Twenty years ago, Pinot Grigio was a little-known grape in the U.S. Now, it is the fourth-largest selling varietal wine. Ecco Domani produced about 120,000 bottles when it was getting started. Its sales of Pinot Grigio now top 8 million bottles a year.

The grapes for the wine, which is 87 percent Pinot Grigio and 13 percent Chardonnay, are grown in the high-altitude regions of Tre-Venezie: Trentino-Alta Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giuilia.

“We work with 20 different co-ops in (the region). Each co-op has 500 to 1,000 growers, so we work with 20,000 growers,” Gatto said during the interview.

Typically, grapes for Pinot Grigio are picked when the fruit is young and bright, which with large-scale production can make the wine less flavorful. Gatto is able to maintain the depth and character of Ecco Domani by using the passito method of winemaking for about 10 percent of the grapes.

The passito Pinot Grigio grapes are allowed to hang on the vines for about a month longer than the others used in the wine, and they are dried on straw mats before being fermented and put into the blend.

The result is a pale straw-colored wine with balanced flavors and aromas that goes well with pasta, fish and fowl or is a good accompaniment to appetizers.

My wife, Sandy, and I had it with a flavorful udon noodle and shrimp salad, and it was an excellent match.

Ecco Domani is ubiquitous in the market. I find it regularly on sale for about $8.50 a bottle, and at that price, it’s a real bargain.

My only regret about Ecco Domani is that I didn’t discover it sooner. I’m working on overcoming my preconceived notions about wine. Perhaps, that will lead me to some great finds that the rest of the wine world has been drinking and enjoying for years.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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