THE GRACEFUL EXPRESSIONS OF PINOT GRIS
MONDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER 2022 | BY RODRIGO MAMMANA, STORES GENERAL MANAGER
It is fascinating to see how grapes can produce such a wide range of styles and flavours in the wine world. Whether it is light and delicate wines or powerful and robust ones, the grapes used for their production are always crucial to the final result, defining their identity and personality. Despite the variety of vinifera grapes for wine production, only a few are capable of producing high-quality wines; Pinot Gris is a good example of this. This noble variety, called Pinot Grigio in Italy, which is extremely popular producing a massive quantity of cheap and neutral wine, is a mutation of the refined Pinot Noir. Despite its pink colour, the wines from this grape are white, and the best expressions are rich, full body and aromatic.
The most reputable region for Pinot Gris wines is Alsace, which is considered one of the four “noble grapes” (the other ones are Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Riesling), but a few selected producers make sublime wines in the north of Italy. Pinot Gris can also be found in Burgundy (known as Pinot Beurot), a little bit in the Loire Valley (where they are called Malvoisie), and also in Pfalz and Baden- Württemberg (called Brauburgunder or Ruländer). The Ruländer name is typically used for sweet wines, while the former is used for dry wines. Ruländer is also the name of the grape in Austria.
Pinot Gris in Alsace
Pinot Gris is the fourth more planted grape in Alsace, and some people think that is the region where this variety achieves the greatest level of quality. The best expressions have luscious flavours of ripe peach, apricot and hints of smoke. The best Pinot Gris from Alsace ages very well, developing buttery flavours.
Late harvest wines are relatively common in Alsace, being the perfect pairing for savoury dishes. An excellent example of a great producer of Pinot Gris in Alsace is Zind-Humbrecht, with its superb single vineyard Rotenberg; producing wines since the 17th Century, this specific terroir based on clay and limestone provides the perfect condition for a rich and profound expression of Pinot Gris.
Pinot Grigio in Italy
In Italy, Pinot Grigio is a victim of its success. The popularity of the massproduction neutral light wines with discreet citrus flavours spread around the world, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a fresh and unpretentious wine that satisfies the thirst of millions of people who wants to enjoy a glass of wine without looking for complexity or seriousness in their drinks. Important to note that there are several entry-level Pinot Grigio with perfect balance and freshness, ideal for the everyday summer wine (a good example of that is Cantarutti Pinot Grigio, delicious wine from Friuli with an incredibly low price for the quality). The “ocean” of Italian Pinot Grigio with questionable quality affects the reputation of the few extraordinary producers who have the highest standards of quality, showing how good Pinot Grigio can be in that country.
If you are not convinced yet, try the outstanding Pinot Grigio from Mario Schiopetto and you will understand what I am talking about. The elegance, complexity and richness of this Friuli masterpiece are a perfect example of how far Pinot Grigio can go. Mario was one of the pioneers when, back in the Sixties, he and other legendary wine producers worked hard to improve the quality of Italian wines and put them on the world wine map. I’m talking about Biondi Santi, Gaja, Ceretto and Antinori to name a few. The first vintage of his Pinot Grigio was in 1968, using selected grapes from the reputable Cru of Capriva in the heart of Friuli.
Pinot Gris in Oregon
The quality of wines from Oregon is well known by the oenophiles, but most regular wine drinkers are not aware of the exquisite wines that this cold climate region can offer. The region is already recognized as a top quality producer of Pinot Noir with an elegance that can match with great Burgundies, but a few producers realized that Oregon’s Terroir has perfect conditions for Pinot Gris. The pioneer of planting Burgundy varieties in Oregon was David Lett, from Eyrie Vineyards, who planted the first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1965 when he saw the climatic similarities between the two regions. Years later, David planted the first Pinot Gris and was followed by other local producers.
One of the most reputable wine regions in Oregon is the Willamette Valley, where Elk Cove (who produces wines since 1974) produces an excellent expression of Oregon’s Pinot Gris. The wine has plenty of fruits like nectarine, cantaloup and orange peel; everything with finesse and harmony. Its bright, fresh acidity and creamy texture make this Pinot Gris a perfect pairing for delicate food, ideally on a sunny day.
Pinot Gris in New Zealand
In the same way that Oregon has climatic similarities to Burgundy, the region of Central Otago (the only wine region considered continental in the country) is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of great class and finesse. Frequently compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris, the best wines are rich and fresh, with notes of apples, sweet melon and pears, many times with a waxy texture.
That’s the case of the organic Lamont Pinot Gris, produced from 20-year-old vines in gravel soils. Another excellent expression of Pinot Gris in New Zealand is Blackenbrook Pinot Gris from Nelson. This wine of outstanding value for the price is produced from a 19-year-old vineyard with a gentle vinification process: the whole bunch pressed, cool fermentation and extended time in contact with lees result in a fabulous wine with notes of pears, lemons and light flavours of almond and ginger. With exceptional freshness and balance, this wine is very gastronomical, paired with a great variety of light dishes.
Pinot Gris With Food:
Due to the variety of styles that Piot Gris wines can offer, its versatility with food is expressive. While the light and crisp entry-level Italian Pinot Grigio are perfect with aperitifs or a summer picnic. The medium-body Pinot Grigio are excellent with grilled fish with vegetables or roasted chicken. The most complex expressions of Pinot Gris, however, have enough structure to pair with richer dishes, like fish with creamy sauces, veal or chicken breast with supreme sauce. The off-dry Pinot Gris wines are excellent with spicy food, particularly going well with Indian curries.
Finally, if you want to try your Pinot Gris with cheese, my favourite combination is the strong and pungent ones like Taleggio or Munster. Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio) is a grape that excels in diversity; from dry wines to somewhat sweet ones, crisp and light to robust and complex, there is no doubt that the best ones are at the same level as the greatest white wines in the world and deserve a place in your cellar.