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Ep 362: The Grape Miniseries -- Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 02/16/2021

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More Episodes

Of the many grapes that we have covered in this series, possibly the hardest to define is the one in this show -- Pinot Gris. It's so complex in part because it goes by many names and can taste neutral and boring to oily, powerful, and bold with notes of smoke, ginger, and spice. It can be bone dry to amazingly sweet and can be powderpuff or very serious in quality.

 

Whatever the incarnation, wine drinkers lap it up! In the U.S., Pinot Grigio (the Italian style) is the second most-consumed wine behind Chardonnay, according to Impact Databank (the sister publication to Wine Spectator). But it's not just the US that loves this wine, it's growing like mad in Australia too. 

 

In this show, we discuss the many sides of Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio, or Grauburgunder or whatever you want to call it! Here are the show notes:

 

We first discuss the grape itself:

  • Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder, or Rulander are all the same grape and all are mutations of Pinot Noir, so similar to their parent that the only thing that is different is the color of the grape after veraision
  • Pinot Gris is one of the darkest skinned grapes that makes white. It's fruit is gray-blue fruit but can be brown- pink,  white or deep purple. As a result, the finished wine can have a copper tinge or be light pink 
  • The adjective gris is French for "gray" and the grape is named so because it has a grayish look to it. The gray name is used everywhere and has been adapted to local culture: Italian (grigio), German (grauer), Slovenian (sivi) and Czech (sede)
  • Pinot Gris is thin skinned and does well in cool to moderate climates with very long growing seasons.
  • Picking decision is essential to the wine's character for every wine but with Pinot Gris, it will determine whether it is insipid and neutral (picked early) or rich with higher alcohol, lower acidity and rich, full flavors like pears, apples, apricot, tropical fruit, ginger, spices, smoke, and mineral

"Pinot Grigio prior to harvest, vintage 2012" by stefano lubiana wines 
is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

We discuss some general ideas about winemaking

  • There is a sharp distinction between early picked Pinot Grigio (the Italian style) and full bodied, rich and flavorful Pinot Gris (the Alsace, France style)
  • Most cheap Pinot Grigio, in particular, is picked, fermented and brought to market quickly -- it is a cash cow
  • Pinot Grigio styles rarely use oak, but Pinot Gris (French style) often use older, neutral barrels for fermentation to give the wines texture. These styles also go through sur lie aging to give more texture to the wine 

The Growing regions and their styles:

Pinot Gris/Grigio is grown in: France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Germany, Romania, Canada, the U.S., Hungary, Switzerland, Russia, Moldova, China

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Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio Around the world

Alsace, France

  • Pinot Gris is 16 % of production in Alsace
  • The grape thrives in the dry, sunny climate, with its long autumns. Yields are kept quite low and the best sites are the Grand Cru sites designated for Pinot Gris
  • Alsace Pinot Gris is layered and bold with honey, ginger, spice, and bold apricot and sometimes tropical fruit notes. It can be picked late harvest (Vendanges Tardive) or allowed to develop botrytis (noble rot) that changes the wines into unctuous, full dessert wines.
  • Occasionally these wines are oak-aged for texture, some are more medium bodied, many have residual sugar, so you must check the producer's style and web site to see how sweet the wine is
  • These wines, in the past, were substitutes for red wines and accordingly, go with fuller food
  • Top producers in Alsace: Albrecht, Blanck, Marcel Deiss, Dopff & Irion, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Mann, René Muré, Schlumberger, Trimbach

Italy

  • Growing in Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, and Trentino Alto Adige, along with a few other northern areas (Valle d'Aosta) the Italian style is always picked a bit early and has an emphasis on dry, mineral flavors
  • Unlike Alsace, where grapes develop over a long season, in Italy the goal is to harvest grapes early, and to have high yields. The result of this overcropping is dilution of flavor and a high acid wine that doesn't reflect the true character of the grape. Many experts charge that much of the Pinot Grigio planted in large vineyards is actually Pinot Bianco or even Trebbiano Toscano
  • In the winery, stainless steel tanks are used and the wine is fermented and bottled quickly but the better wines can have light oak-ageing or skin contact
  • Cheap Pinot Grigio has very little flavor or character. It is cheap and cheerful and nothing else. 
  • In Alto Adige -world-class Pinot Grigios from estate bottling are expensive but lead to nuttier, fruitier flavors that are recognizable as related to Pinot Gris. Producers include: Elena Walch, Franz Haas, Tiefenbruner, San Michele Appiano, Sanct Valentin Pinot Grigio, Alois Lageder, Cantina Terlano
  • In Friuli, Isonzo has full, tropical notes and the cooler areas of Collio and Colli Orientali produce more saline, spicy, and mineral wines that can have a spritz to them. Lis Neris, Vie di Romans, Dessimis, and Marco Felluga are good producers
  • In Valle d’Aosta, experts see high potential for these Pinot Gris to be the best in Italy – frequently mentioned by critics is Lo Triolet di Marco Martin, called Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio

Germany

  • Germany ranks third in the world for Grauburgunder production. Most of that is in Rheinhessen, the Pfalz, and Baden
  • These wines tend to be lower in alcohol, higher in acidity and more mineral-driven that Alsace versions with floral, citrusy notes. All versions are made -- sparkling, dry, off-dry, and late harvest and botrytized sweet wine
  • My favorite producer is Müller-Catoir from Pfalz

 In Europe, Pinot Gris is made in...

  • Burgundy – some people still use it
  • Loire, where it's called Malvoisie
  • Switzerland, where it has floral notes and a soft texture
  • Luxembourg, where the wines are fuller
  • Slovenia, which specializes in Pinot Grigio with skin contact These skin contact wines only use a bit of contact (24 – 48 hours of skin contact is common) to give Pinot Grigio flavor without stripping the essence of the grape
  • Other places:  Austria, Romania, Croatia, Hungary

 

New World

New Zealand

  • Pinot Gris is the more like the Alsace version with a medium body and flavors like apple, pear, honeysuckle, spice, and toast
  • On the North Island, especially from Hawkes Bay and Gisbourne, you'll find ripe full, oily styles of Pinot Gris
  • On the South Island, the volume is large in Marlborough where the wines have spicy and structure but they shine when from North Canterbury. 
  • Good producers include: Seresin, Greywacke, Jules Taylor

 

The United States

  • California grows a lot of Pinot Grigio but mostly for use in jug wine or cheap "California" appellate wine. Most grows in the hot Central Valley. it is not a focus for most producers
  • Oregon is the real hotspot in the US for Pinot Gris. the area has long, moderate summer days with cooling breezes. It has a longer fall which allows Pinot Gris the space it needs to develop flavor. These wines taste like fresh cut apple, pear, underripe melon, and can be medium bodied, occasionally with oak notes
    Bigger Producers include: King Estate (the largest Pinot Gris producer), A to Z, Erath, Adelsheim, Ponzi, and Rainstorm 

 

Canada -- British Columbia 

  • 21.2% of the white wine crop in 2018, makes Pinot Gris the Queen of the whites in BC. I recall it being very serviceable to good

 

Australia

  • Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris -- the names and styles are used at will is one of the hottest, fastest growing wines
  • There are no style rules or naming conventions. The wines vary from acidic and light (Italian style) to bold and full (Alsace style). Producers often call full styles Pinot Grigio and light styles Pinot Gris. There is no convention.
  • We mention Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy of T'Gallant Wines in the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria. Kathleen Quealy was named the ‘Queen of Pinot Grigio’ back then and she still makes wine under her own label today

 

It's a lot to take in! Who would have thought that something I call alcoholic lemon water (in it's Grigio incarnation) would be so complex! 

 

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