Jul 23 2009
By Brett Ashley McKenzie
With summer well underway, more and more Just Grapes customers are spending their time in the store perusing our whites and rosés. But there is one category that some shoppers don’t seem to know how to approach: Pinot Gris.
“What is this?” people will ask, bringing up a bottle of the Alsatian Gustave Lorentz or the New Zealand Nautilus Pinot Gris. Or they’ll discover Pinot Gris (pronounced Pee-No Gree) at the tasting machine, where the Oregonian Ponzi Pinot Gris has been holding court this month.
We tell them that Pinot Gris is “biologically” the same as Pinot Grigio (Pinot Grigio is a clone of Pinot Gris; aka they are the same grape). But if you’re expecting your glass of Ponzi or Nautilus to taste like Santa Margherita, you’re in for a shock. There is a mysterious sensuality in a good Pinot Gris that is unlike that I’ve found in any other white wine I’ve tasted. Sometimes smoky, sometimes rich, sometimes seemingly as big as a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris are elegant, often featuring subtle notes of pear or melon, yet still dry (though not quite so crisp as many Pinot Grigios).
In Alsace, Pinot Gris is considered one of the “noble grapes” (along with Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat). Alsatian Pinot Gris, unlike its New World counterparts, is often described as spicy, big, and possessing exceptional food acidity. Alsatians expect their Pinot Gris to stand up to virtually any dish without interfering with the food’s flavor or texture.
There is, however, a burgeoning Pinot Gris region right here in the U.S. In 2007, the New York Times said “Oregon pinot gris is one of the least-talked-about, best-value wines on the market today… They have grace and texture, and are lively enough to go well with food. Best of all, they almost always cost less than $20.” What separates Oregonian Pinot Gris from its Alsatian counterpart is a mineral quality, with notes of nuttiness–like almond or hazelnut. Where Alsatian Pinot Gris is big and textured, Oregonian Pinot Gris is more subtle. It’s sexy, it’s silky, and that lovely smoked nut quality makes it a to-die-for pairing with most hard cheeses.
My first experience with Pinot Gris was Alsatian, but I’ve sinced come to appreciate the very different yet very appealing qualities in Alsace and Oregonian Pinot Gris.