A primer on pinot grigio wine

Although these grayish-blue grapes have been cultivated for centuries in Europe, the versatile varietal is one of the fastest-growing white wines in America today. Grown in Burgundy since the Middle Ages, Pinot Grigio -- also known as Pinot Gris -- thrives in cool climates from Northern Italy to Oregon. The varietal varies wildly from region to region, yielding wines that range from full-bodied and dry to light and acidic.

Regardless of the region from which it hails, Pinot Grigio is prized around the world for its generous floral bouquet, crisp palate and silky texture.

Pinot Grigio is part of the somewhat dysfunctional Pinot family, so named for its tight grape clusters that resemble pine cones. Both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc are mutations of Pinot Noir, the famed red varietal of Burgundy; however, Pinot Grigio is now more closely associated with the Alsace region, where chilly weather and warm volcanic soils provide ideal conditions for this fruit.

Drinking Pinot Gringo – or it is Pinot Gris?

The distinctive Alsatian brand of Pinot Gringo (referred to always in France as Pinot Gris) is rich and oily with aromas of buttered toast and honey. The grape’s unusually high alcohol content is matched by steep prices that can reach up to $50 or $100 per bottle.

Although Pinot Grigio is now grown in California, Idaho, Michigan and beyond, Oregon first pioneered this cool-climate grape in America. Sometimes labeled Grigio, sometimes Gris, their version is medium-bodied, crisp and strong on fruity flavors and aromas.

While Italian winemakers have caught a bad rap for producing thinner, unripe Pinot Grigio for American drinkers, it’s worth searching out some lesser-known wines from the Alpine regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. High up on the thigh of Italy’s boot, these viticultural areas are known for their rich and complex Pinot Grigio characterized by tangy acidity and stony minerality. To find it, scan the Italian shelves for out-of place German and Slavic names: Jermann, Attems, Tiefenbrunner, Kupelwieser, Primosic, Doro Princic and Damijan to name a few.

Most Pinot Grigio is best drunk young, and is bottled within 4 to 12 weeks of fermentation. However, full-bodied Alsatian bottles can age extremely well. We recommend chilling the bottle for two to three hours to achieve an ideal temperature of around 45 degrees.

Pinot Gringo pairs well with seafood dishes, light cheeses and any pasta with white sauce.


Top Rated Pinot Gringo  

Alsace, France

Albert Boxler

2005 Pinot Gris Vieilles Vignes; $33

Resting on just 26 acres of land, the Boxler vineyard is typical of the small, family-run farms of the Alsatian region. Made with grapes from some of the family’s oldest vines, this sweet varietal is thick and rich, and pairs well with salmon tartar or mild cheeses.

Oregon, USA

Seven Hills

2007 Pinot Gris; $16

This offering from Seven Hills boasts a fruit-forward flavor profile that is characteristic of the Oregon style. Lemon-colored with lime, spearmint, pear and hazelnut scents, the 2007 Pinot Gris gives way to crisp pear and citrus on the palate with hints of oak, and a long dry finish. Perfect for dinner salads.

Friuli, Italy

Ascevi Luwa

2010 Pinot Gringo Collio DOC; $19

Located in the hills of Friuli near the Slovenian border, Ascevi Luwa boasts mineral-rich soil primed for lemon-light Pinot Gringo. Crisp with an aromatic bouquet, this white wine would pair well with crispy fish and chips and calamari fritti.

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