Pinot Gris (PEE-no gree)

Depending on where it is grown, pinot gris—“gray” pinot—can taste strikingly different. Ironically, the best known pinot gris—Italian pinot grigio—is unquestionably usually the lowest in quality. It’s often utterly neutral stuff—serviceable but not significant; the wine version of a white T-shirt. Of course, there’s no shame in making basic wine. The crime is charging a lot for it. (Hello, Santa Margherita). As always with wine, there are some delicious exceptions. I’ve always loved the purity and freshness of the pinot grigios from Jermann (Friuli) and Alois Lageder (Alto Adige), for example. Then there are the pinot gris’ from Alsace, France—as opposite of pinot grigios as a wine could be and still be from the same grape. The best Alsace pinot gris is complex, opulent, often a bit smoky and spicy, but still precise and crisp. It’s considered one of the four so-called “noble” varieties of Alsace and is often the perfect wine if you don’t want something as aromatic as riesling or gewürztraminer. In Germany, pinot gris (called grauburgunder or ruländer) can be something else again—broad, even Rubenesque by German wine standards. In Oregon, where pinot gris became popular in the 1990s, the best are very tasty wines with pear and spice-cake flavors. As for California pinot gris (some of which are called pinot grigio), most are crisp, fresh wines, sometimes with an intriguing edge of pepperyness or arugula-like bitterness. But undoubtedly, the most dependably delicious pinot gris’ in North America are made in Canada—in the cold, sunny, dry, northern latitude Oakanagan Valley. Although I have included it here because of its global popularity, pinot gris is not, technically speaking, its own variety. Like pinot blanc, pinot gris is a clone of pinot noir that includes a color mutation. As such, in the vineyard, pinot gris grapes can be any color from bluish-silver to mauve-pink to ashen-yellow. As a result, this white wine varies in color, too, although subtly.


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