What Makes a Good Pinot Grigio Wine?

What Makes a Good Pinot Grigio Wine

It’s Friday night. After a long hard week, it’s time to get everyone together for a fun evening. Pinot Grigio is a fantastic wine pick for the night. What makes a good Pinot Grigio you might ask? We’ll gladly supply you with that answer. After that, enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio.

All About Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a very popular variety in the US, with 17,000 planted to the grape in CA alone.

It’s a dry white wine that is slightly acidic. Pinot Grigio contains flavors like lemons, limes, and green apples. It’s a great white wine to drink in the summer, chilled to a cold degree. Pinot Grigio was originially planted in Oregon in 1966 but struggled to find a foothold well into the 1990’s. In the early 2000’s the grape got a second wind and plantings of the variety spiked with acreages multiplying 6 fold in many areas. As demand for Pinot Grigio has surged, many industry experts have asked them selves the question,what do wine drinkers like so much about this white wine?

Three Styes of Pinot Grigio

There is not just one style of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) and understanding these styles can lead to greater enjoyment of the wine. Winemakers have their own varying techniques to bring out the unique tastes of the grape but generally speaking the styles can be clumped into 3 categories.

  1. Dry and Mineral: Considered by many to be the most popular expression of the grape, and the preferred style of the Italian versions. It is simple and clean. What it may lack in the fruit department it makes up for in mineral crispness and lemon lime pop.
  2. Fruity and Dry: This style of Pinot Grigio is often called Pinot Gris and frequently has more palate weight and fresh fruit character. Lemon, yellow apple, and white peach are common aromas in these wines. It is also normal to have an oily texture.
  3. Sweet: This style of Pinot Grigio is by far the least common but worth seeking out for the avid wine explorer. Flavors include sweet lemon candy, honeycomb, and honey crisp apples.

Dry and Mineral Pinot Grigio To Try

Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Alto Adige, in the Northern most reaches of Italy is home to some of the best glasses of dry and mineral Pinot Grigio that you’re ever going to taste. Defined by it’s proximity to the Alps, the region has as much in common with Switzerland and Lichtenstein as it does Italy. The steep intensely stony region is cold with a short growing season. This has lead to the popularity of the early ripening Pinot Grigio. Additionally the region is known for grazing sheep, and the fantastic white wine with its zesty and refreshing crispness pairs beautifully with creamy nutty sheeps milk cheese, the other delicacy of the region. Many wine drinkers will note a slight honey taste and less fruity flavors in the Pinot Grigio of this region. Some of this can be attributed to the slate and limestone soils of the regions, and some can be attributed to the low yields this harsh growing climate produces. Less grapes her hectare, more flavor per glass.

Veneto , Italy

Located south and east of Alto Adige, the Veneto region has a more Mediterranean climate that is still affected by the powerful Alps. The region is marked by foothills giving way to rolling pasture land headed towards the sea which borders the region in the south. The wines here are still lean and steely but are beginning to have more of a fruit aspect. The wines here frequently have more body to them and due to the regions influence from land and sea are often crafted with seafood and light pasta pairings in mind. Cioppino the famous San Francisco seafood stew, is a perfect pairing for this style of crisp clean Pinot Grigio.

Fruity and Dry Pinot Grigio To Try

Victoria, Australia

When people think of Australia the blistering hot outback landscape dotted with kangaroos, and great white sharks might come to mind and although this may be true of the continent/country that is home to the highest number of poisonous snakes in the world, it’s wine growing regions are temperate, focused in the lower eastern corner of the country. Here elevation and proximity to the ocean help create the necessary warm days and cool nights that mark a successful wine region. Victoria in particular is emerging as the region to beat when it comes to producing Pinot Grigio. One of the things that can be a bit challenging in buying an Australian Pinot Grigio is predicting what you’re about to get. Because Pinot Gris, and Pinot Grigio are the same grape it can be confusing to begin with. Add in the fact that there is no legal definition for either label and it’s down right baffling. The US has worked out an informal and unenforced agreement of “If it’s lean and steely call it Grigio in the Italian tradition, if it’s fruity and oily call it Gris in the French tradition”. It’s not perfect but it works for us. Australia has no such agreement informal or otherwise, and it’s the wild west of naming conventions. The good news is if you manage to find a Pinot Grigio from Australia you won’t have to worry about forking out a fortune. Pull the trigger and have a little adventure. Regardless of which style you get, you won’t regret exploring.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The US wine market can thank Oregon for bringing Pinot Gris to the US. In 1966 David Lett, founder of The Eyrie Vineyards, planted Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in Dundee Oregon, becoming the first Oregonian to produce Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the state, and the first person to bring Pinot Gris to the US after prohibition. Since then the grape has grown consistently in popularity with many producers choosing Pinot Gris as it’s price friendly tasting room wine. While it’s more glamorous sibling Pinot Noir is the star of the show for most wineries, everyone knows that the best kept secret is in fact Pinot Gris. Oregon Pinot Gris seems to strike perfectly in the middle style wise with a bright acid medium bodied white wine that is full flavored and fruity, without becoming the oily Alsatian version.

Sweet Pinot Grigio’s To Try

Alsace, France

Alsace is a unique and beautiful region of France. Part of what makes this area so unique is it’s close ties to it’s next door neighbor, Germany. Throughout history the region has traded allegiance bouncing back and forth, resulting in a hybrid culture that extends into wines. Alsatian Pinot Grigio is characterized by being substantially more full bodied than it’s other French counterparts, as well as veering towards the baking spice side of life. For a real treat hunt down a bottle of ‘vendages tardives’. Translated vendages tardives means late harvest, and is exactly that, grapes that have been left to ripen on the vine almost to the point of raisins. These grapes are often affected by the noble rot botrytis, which further intensifies the sweetness of these wines. In Alsace, these late harvest wines are made almost exclusively from Pinot Gris and are some of the worlds greatest examples of dessert wines. They are rare and hard to find, but totally worth the effort. They taste like honey poured over pears with cracked black pepper and peanut brittle. Yeah. They’re that good.

An exceptional exception: Romato

A unique version of Pinot Grigio worthy of a mention comes in the form of the Italian orange wine Romato. Romato translates to copper in Italian and is a reference to the wines distinctly pink orange hue. Being a mutation of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio has a dappled blue grey skin, that when left in contact with the clear juice inside, develops a distinct hue. Additionally this contact time helps these one of a kind wines develop aromas of white raspberry, leather, and sour cherry. The Rose style of Pinot Grigio is not limited to Italy, but it’s safe to say that if you come across a bottle of Romato, it is worth your time to explore. The dry cranberry fruitiness of these wines, paired with there fuller body and firm acidity make this an ideal pairing wine.