So you say you don’t like pinot grigio? Well, I say you just haven’t tried the right ones. This is a grape that’s made in myriad styles — and names, going by pinot grigio and pinot gris — and can find great expression in both the New and Old Worlds.
Yes, a lot of Italian pinot grigios are forgettable if not regrettable, but even there the hillier northeastern regions of Veneto, Friuli and Alto Adige offer up truly distinctive renditions, with freshness on the nose and palate, tasty fruit and tangy minerality.
In the similar landscape of France’s Alsace, where it has been vinified since the 17th century, pinot gris is bigger and bolder, with lush, spicy flavors and near-endless finishes.
On these shores, Oregon wineries usually adopt the French name “pinot gris” to reflect style similarities: major floral aromas, rounder texture and vibrant fruit leavened by just-right acidity. This grape, brought to America by the legendary David Lett in the mid-1960s, now provides about half of the state’s white-wine production.
That state’s northern neighbor, Washington, actually recently passed Oregon in pinot gris acreage, and of course California has even more planted. Australia and New Zealand are joining the fray. The wines from those locales range from crowd-pleasers to rich renditions that can play well with salmon, fresh or smoked.
That’s another major attribute of pinot gris/grigio: insane versatility at the dinner table. Seafood, from buttery scallops or shrimp to briny oysters or clams, is the obvious pairing. But grilled or braised chicken and pork also are swell accompaniments, as are most soups and vegetarian dishes, even (or perhaps especially) rustic ones. It works with mildly spicy Asian foods, and any restaurant that serves dim sum should have some of these wines on its list.
(Side note: The Alsatians often say that this grape is perfect at dinnertime because it complements, but never competes with, the food.)
Here are some of my favorite bottles from the regions cited above, wines that really deliver for the money.
Northeastern Italy: The Ca’Stella Friuli Latisana Pinot Grigio ($12) is super-expressive, with a citrusy/floral nose and beautiful amalgam of sweet, crisp flavors. Also worth checking out: La Fiera Veneto, Due Mari Venezie and, for a few dollars more, Alois Lageder Sudtirol.
Alsace: You’ll need to spend more here, but it’s not a reach to say that the Gustave Lorentz Alsace Reserve ($23) proves that pinot gris can be profound, with its power/grace combo and citrus/stone-fruit deliciousness. Also: Domaine Schlumberger “Les Princes Abbes” and Zind-Humbrecht Pinot D’Alsace, a fantastic blend with pinot blanc.
Oregon: The Raptor Ridge Oregon Pinot Gris ($20) is one of those wines that I could just sit and smell, so intense and multifaceted are its aromas. But the juice really delivers, too, with lemon and melon notes and a clean and lively but refined texture. Also: Anne Amie, Left Coast and Bethel Heights.
Washington: Year in and year out, the Dusted Valley “Boomtown” Pinot Gris ($15) melds bright, juicy, tropical fruit and lip-smackin’ acidity. Nice, ripe/lean finish, too. Also: Canoe Ridge and Charles Smith “Vino.”
California: Some of the state’s best offerings such as Etude are not available here. But the La Crema Monterey Pinot Gris ($20) combines quintessential California characteristics (spice, rich fruit) with some nice minerality on the finish. Also: Estancia and Pepi.
Down Under: The Sileni Marlborough Pinot Gris ($12) has a soft, sweetish, honeyed edge but is a nicely balanced wine with a delightful finish. Also: Seifried Old Coach Road.
One more note for this grape’s non-fans: You probably like pinot noir, and a single cellular mutation differentiates between pinots noir and gris. In fact, pinot gris was grown in Burgundy and blended into the pinot noirs in the 18th century.
In other words, time to open your minds — and a bottle of pinot gris.
Bill Ward writes at www.decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.