A Gray Pinot Primer

E Wine of the Week

By Bruce Cochran

As I approach my 350th week of E Wine of the Week columns, let’s explore some fun and unique parts of the world of wine, including ideas that can make wine even more enjoyable and fascinating than what we find in our individual wine “comfort zones.” For instance, why do we enjoy Champagne only on special occasions? Doesn’t it taste just as good other times?

And I know that many of you like to try new wines, but if you find yourself choosing wines defensively — letting a fear that you won’t like it override the excitement that you might — there’s a big, wonderful world of wines out there that you’re missing out on.

The variety of wines out there is almost limitless. And drinking only cabernet, chardonnay and merlot is a little like eating only steak. It’s not bad, but …

If you’re headed to Little Rock, my next tasting “After Work at the Afterthought” is May 20 at the Afterthought, corner of Kavanaugh and Beechwood in Little Rock’s historic Hillcrest neighborhood. Drop by any time from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and join James Cripps and me and taste through some great wines at your own pace for $10. Appetizer specials available in the Afterthought, and the restaurant Vieux Carré is right next door.

Try a new wine this week!


Pitars Pinot Grigio

One fascinating part of the world of wine is how wines made from the same grape variety can have very different styles. One of the best examples of this is the much-loved “gray pinot.”

Now, you may not know the grape under that name. How about pinot grigio? Grigio is the Italian word for gray. Or pinot gris? Gris is the French word for gray.

This white wine member of the pinot family (pinot noir of course is the red wine cousin), is grown all over the world in enough different styles that there’s something there for just about everybody.

The most popular is from northern Italy. Most are light, dry, unoaked with a crisp, palate-cleansing acidity if it’s from a cool area, especially the northern regions like Trentino/Alto Adige, Venezia, Friuli or parts of the Veneto. Very nice aperitif, also good with lighter dishes.

The “original” pinot gris, in the opinion of many wine lovers, is from the northern French region of Alsace. Directly across the Rhine River from Germany in the beautiful Vosges Mountains, Alsatian pinot gris tends to be a bit fuller in body and flavor than its Italian cousin, with sometimes a very subtle, balancing hint of oak in the background.

And “gris” is the name used for some of my favorite pinot gris in Oregon. There it’s made in an even bigger style, more reminiscent of an elegant California chardonnay. Because of the climate primarily, the most typical style of Oregon pinot gris offers even more depth of flavor and richness of texture than most Alsatian versions. And oftentimes somewhat more pronounced oak accents.

I can imagine a springtime menu — maybe a long luncheon — featuring only this grape. Beginning with a northern Italian pinot grigio as an aperitif, moving to an Alsatian wine with a light appetizer (quenelles if somebody else is cooking), then on to Oregon for the main course (maybe salmon). For dessert? Well, some of my favorite dessert wines are pinot gris, too!

A pinot grigio that I enjoy is Pitars Pinot Grigio. It has been made in northeastern Italy, in the shadow of the Alps, for many generations. The cost is about $12 a bottle.

Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.

Categories: Legacy Archive