A Bright Warm-Weather Gray

Bruce Cochran’s
Wine Of The Week: Pinot Gris

Hello Everyone,

Let’s celebrate this week’s warmer weather with a great white wine grape, a versatile wine whose many styles can make it a perfect choice for an aperitif, or an appetizer, or a match with some of my favorite main courses.  Sometimes it’s even a dessert wine.

Try a new wine this week!


Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris

One of the wonderful things in the world of wine is how wines made from the same grape variety can have very different styles.

An example is the much-loved “gray pinot”.  In Italy, the word for gray is “grigio”, as in pinot grigio. In French it’s “gris”, as in pinot gris. This white wine member of the pinot family (pinot noir is a red wine cousin), is grown all over the world, in enough different styles that there’s something made for just about anybody.

The best pinot grigio is from northern Italy’s cool, Alpine climate, especially the northern regions of Trentino/Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, or parts of the Veneto.  Most are light, dry, unoaked, with a crisp, palate-cleansing acidity. They work well as an aperitif, and are also good with lighter dishes.

Some of the best pinot gris 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 subtle, balancing hint of oak in the background. Rarely are they aged in new, unused oak, but in barrels whose past vintages have leached some of the wood flavor out of them.  New oak barrels might impart too much oak flavor, masking the wine’s fruit flavors.

The name “gris” is used also in Oregon, where some of my favorite wines are made.  Most Oregon pinot gris has an even bigger style than its French counterpart, more like that of an elegant California chardonnay, with more depth of flavor and richness of texture than most Alsatian pinot gris.  Because they have more concentrated fruit, they’re also given more pronounced oak accents, often by the use of newer oak barrels

I can imagine a springtime menu — maybe a long luncheon — featuring only this grape.  Begin with an Italian pinot grigio for an aperitif, move to an Alsatian pinot gris with an 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.  The best that I’ve tasted have been Alsatian (vendage tardive), German “Rulander” (they’re name for this grape), late-harvest Oregon versions, or the great, if expensive, dessert pinot gris from the Crimea peninsula near Yalta.  Autria’s Burgenland also has late harvest pinot gris, labeled “Beerenauslese” or Trockenbeerenauslese.”

This pinot gris, from Oregon’s Left Coast Cellars, is crisp and dry, with sutble oak accents on the finish. It’s under $20 per bottle, and great with lighter dishes, particularly salmon fillets.

Categories: Food