A naturally occurring mutant of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris is an elegant and expressive grape, grown throughout the Old and New Worlds, and capable of producing beautifully opulent wines. But it’s something of an oddball. While the skins of most white wine-producing grapes range in color from yellow to yellow-green to green, Pinot Gris’ berries take on a distinct bluish-gray hue — "gris" is the French word for "gray" — and even within the same cluster, the colors can vary from brownish-pink to copper to even black or white. And stylistically it’s a chameleon, able to yield wines that span the spectrum from lean and crisp to concentrated and sweet.
Burgundy is Pinot Gris’ ancestral homeland, where it still grows today as Pinot Beurot, but since the 1600s Alsace has gained preeminence in cultivating the grape. Here, the cool climate, dry autumns, and volcanic/limestone soils provide optimum conditions to allow the vines sufficient time to ripen. The result is medium- to full-bodied wines that are rich, round, weighty, and silky, yellow-gold to amber in color, and intensely aromatic with a bouquet of wildflowers, stone and orchard fruits, melons and spices. Acidity is generally lower and there are distinct notes of earthy minerality. Pinot Gris wines tend to be higher in alcohol and can have a viscous, textured mouthfeel often described as "oily," while sweetness levels can fluctuate from bone dry to the honeyed sugar of late-harvest dessert wines.
In northeastern Italy, Pinot Gris grows as Pinot Grigio. It’s the exact same grape, but stylistically the wines produced are just the opposite. Pinot Grigio wines are simpler in expression — lean, crisp, and zesty with zippy, mouth-watering acidity, achieved by harvesting the grapes early in the season and fermenting in stainless steel tanks. Typical flavor profiles include green apple, pear, nectarine and citrus, with a stony or saline minerality and sometimes almonds, spices, honey and honeysuckle.
New World — notably California, Washington, Oregon, Australia and New Zealand — winemakers produce excellent Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigios as well, reflecting both styles.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• Alixe Lischette
Cabernet and Company
-2014 Scarpetta Pinot Grigio $18,
a beautiful nose of white flowers, apricots and peaches highlight this Pinot Grigio from Fruili. The stone fruit and pear palate is crisp and dry, with good acidity and refreshing minerality laced with hints of lavender and honey.
- 2014 Hendry Pinot Gris $20, a lush bouquet of apples, pears, honey and herbs ushers in a soft, round, creamy palate of green apples and lemony citrus with an undercurrent of minerality.
• Scott Lawlor
Galena Cellars Winery
-NV Señor Sangria $13,
the flavors of cherries and citrus prevail in this light-styled, fruit-laden red blend of Frontenac and Marquette (both French-American hybrid grapes) infused with the essence of oranges, lemons and limes. Serve chilled over ice and stir in fresh citrus for summertime sipping!
- NV General’s Reserve Red $14, a fruit-forward red blend with the French hybrid grape Marechal Foch predominating. In the glass it’s a rich garnet color, with loads of cherries and plums dusted by nuances of fragrant herbs and a hint of oak.