Last week here in Beantown the weather went from gorgeous fall to stormy insanity. In some ways this is a wine buyer's dream. There's no other time of year where you can pick wines for the weekly tasting to straddle the warmer/colder, sunnier/rainier line and scratch almost every consumer's itch. And since there's so much new juice on the market, we can also introduce our customers to new products. See? There's always a silver lining (even when you now have a natural swimming pool in the backyard...)! But I'm jazzed about my topic for this Monday morning musing for another reason, too... remember last week we started talking about fall wine options? Well, for my white wine readers and gourd-lovers out there, I've also got some fall love to share!
Alsatian (style) Pinot Gris. Welcome to my happy place.
Let's start with a few basics. This grape is the genetic mutant of Pinot Noir. It looks almost the same as Pinot Noir (right on down to its leaves) but the grapes have a blue-grey hue. This is where it gets its name. Varietally speaking, Pinot Grigio is the same grape and simply the name used by Italian wine-makers. (This should remind you of the Shiraz (Australia/New World) vs. Syrah (France/Old World) conversation we had a few months back.)
Here's the thing. I don't like Pinot Grigio. Don't get me wrong. I know good quality Italian Pinot Grigio when I find it (so I'm happy to talk about it with those who do dig it), but it's not my personal bag. I find they are more often too thin and too high in alcohol to meet my palate's needs. I'm a sucker for bigger, fruitier whites, hence my appreciation of Pinot Gris. The Alsatian climate offers a warm, dry fall that allows the grapes to ripen fully; the grape's full, ripe sweetness is its tell-tale feature. What's interesting is that Pinot Gris has become sweeter and sweeter in recent years, but often wine labels do not indicate any residual sugar remains. The CIVA (Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin d'Alsace) is trying to sort things out for consumers. The folks there are developing a system to help consumers navigate the range of Pinot Gris available, from sweeter to drier. (As you explore styles of Pinot Gris from Alsace, Oregon or elsewhere, be sure to ask your shop's wine manager what's what in any given bottle.)
Last week for our tasting we offered our customers a chance to experience the 2007 Helfrich Pinot Gris. For those who know what Alsace has to offer its Pinot Gris consumers, this wine sings true from start to finish. It is not a shy wine, offering a big, floral nose. It is equally rich and full in the mouth with the ripe fruit flavors carrying through to the palate. I was pleased to find the winemaker's notes accurately suggest the wine also offers a touch of smokey spice. It was a great wine to have at our tasting; many customers were surprised by the wine's sweeter edge. To me, the citrus and grass notes as well as its acidity impart a tremendous crispness to counter that effect and produce a well-balanced wine.
No surprise, I'm not the only one who is jumping on the Pinot Gris wine-writing bandwagon this fall. Katherine Cole took this topic for a test drive last week, in fact! I highly recommend checking out her musings and taking her up on her suggestions for other great Pinot Gris on the market. Oregon has been a hot bed for awesome Pinot Gris since the 1990's, with it really catching on in the last several years. Be sure to try a few offerings from that part of the world also as you investigate this versatally-styled wine. And definitely consider popping a cork when you concoct a fabulous dish of squash or pumpkin goodness this fall.
Which Pinot Gris do you fancy? What recipes do you find are great pairings?