Last week I wrote a column about the allure and versatility of pinot blanc wines. I began the article by discussing how a friend had thought pinot blanc and pinot grigio were the same wine. Of course, they're not, but I did get an interesting email from a reader asking me if pinot gris and pinot grigio were wines made from the same grape. A perfectly legitimate question and a wonderful segue into this column.
As it turns out, pinot grigio and pinot gris are actually the same white wine grape, just with two different names. Just as with pinot blanc, pinot gris (the "technical" name) is thought to be a mutation of the pinot noir grape. Gris means "gray" in French and has a grayish hue when it is fully ripened but makes a golden yellow to blush-colored wine.
The confusion over the name is a result of where the grapes are grown. For example, in Italy and California, wines produced from the grape are called pinot grigio; however, in France, Canada and Oregon, it's referred to as pinot gris. The main difference is in the style is a result of the climates the grapes are grown in and how the wines are produced. In Italy, pinot grigio tends to be dry, with a citrus-centric core and a minerally finish. In France, the wines lean more toward stone fruits and white flowers. Both styles are found throughout the grape-growing world, so it's just a matter of finding the variety that appeals to your palate. Retail prices are approximate.
Pinot grigio pairs well with light dishes that are on the rich side, like chicken in a rich white sauce, or eggplant with heavy spices.
In 1870, Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino had a dream of starting a winery dedicated to making the best wines possible from Tuscan grapes. Today, the Folonari family runs the winery and its 2009 Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio ($10) from Venezia, Italy, steals the show with an aromatic nose of orange blossom, grapefruit and pineapple. Crisp notes of nectarine, peach and lemon/lime fill the mouth while bracing acidity keeps the finish fresh and lively. QPR 8
For six centuries, the Albrecht family has been making wine in Alsace, so family members know a thing or two about pinot gris. Their 2010 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvee Romanus ($18) from Alsace is one of the most well-known white wines from that region. The intense bouquet explodes with scents of white flowers, juicy stone fruits and wet stone. This extraordinarily easy-drinking wine emphasizes flavors of nectarine, white peach and melon highlighted by abundant acidity. Citrus notes provide a tangy and refreshing finish. QPR 9
Oregon was the first state in America to grow pinot gris, and Adelsheim was one of the first wineries to make it a regular part of their portfolio. The winery's 2011 Adelsheim Pinot Gris ($22) is the 28th vintage it has produced in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The nose is full of ripe green apple, melon and honeysuckle aromas. The slightly creamy mouthfeel supports luscious flavors of green apple, pear and tropical fruit. The textured finish is long and crisp with hints of tangerine and bright acidity on the back of the palate. QPR 8.5
J Vineyards in California's Sonoma Valley is known for its refreshing sparkling wines, but the 2010 J Vineyards "Cooper Vineyard" Pinot Gris ($26) may just change that. Blessed with a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon meringue pie and apricot on the nose and a succulent mouthfeel featuring flavors of tropical fruit, kiwi and honeydew melon, this wine is an elegant version from first sip to last impression. The hint of orange clove honey on the finish is particularly memorable. QPR 9.5
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.