Not So Basic – Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio’s Smart Twin Sister
Haters gonna hate, but just like Taylor Swift, Pinot Grigio is just gonna shake, shake, shake it off all the way to the bank. And speaking of basic, it seems as if nowadays in the drinks world you can get away with being anything except that; just think of vodka, for example, a spirit whose quest for neutrality has become its demise in times of pink gins, spiced rums and sherry cask aged Irish whiskeys.
Or has it not? Booze geeks might be all about biodynamic barley and botanicals stolen from a dragon’s nest but truth is, vodka remains the number one selling spirit in Ireland, and Pinot Grigio is still that “safe bet” that fuels many a night out (or in).
There is a time and a place for the simple and inexpensive Pinot Grigio so popular yet so maligned, however, the lack of complexity for which this white wine is infamous it’s not Pinot’s fault. The variety is a descendant of a mutation of Pinot Noir and it in fact has a twin sister, Pinot Gris.
Genetically identical, these pink skinned grapes are like two contrasting sides of the same coin and it’s due to viticulture and winemaking decisions that it becomes bimbo juice or an elegant and serious wine. Plant an industrial amount of them on B-list land, get massive yields and squeeze the pips out of that and you’ll get your run of the mill office party fuel; but carefully select a cool and sunny plot and harvest sensibly and you’ll be on your way to get something wonderful.
Generally (in some cases by law), Pinot Gris will be the name of choice when referring to the style of more finesse and while you can find very good bottles labelled as Pinot Grigio (a good place to start would be the northern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia DOC), if you’re interested in meeting heroic Superman and not bland Clark Kent, Pinot Gris is the alter ego to seek for.
France’s Alsace is the main region to begin your quest for Pinot Grigio’s smarter twin. The grape is indeed considered as one of the four “noble varieties” in the appellation (along with Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Muscat) and while normally vinified on its own, it might also be part of blends. Germany and Austria also rock the Pinot Gris label, and sometimes in they even call it Grauburgunder.
New Zealand, Australia and California are also producing both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, in fact the names have become more denominators of a style than just an indicator of varietal (kind of like Syrah vs. Shiraz or Garnacha and Grenache).
At the end of the day, mass produced Pinot Grigio’s redeemable quality might be that it brings people into wine, but just like Twilight or more recently, 50 Shades might have encouraged non-readers to grab a book, if you want something more than the lowest common denominator’s tipple of choice, it will pay off to be adventurous. Luckily, Pinot Grigio offers the base, but it also welcomes you on the upper tiers and whether it has a French or an Italian accent, in the hands of a loving winemaker it can become a gorgeous wine.
Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Gris, Les Princes Abbés 2014
€21.95 – Available at Searsons Wine Merchants
Prestigious winemakers Séverine Beydon-Schlumberger and Alain Freyburger are behind this rich and intense multi award-winning Pinot Gris from Alsace, France.
Rich and full bodied, this organic white transports you to a garden of jasmine, orange blossom and honeysuckle. On the fruit front, peaches and nectarine complement it. It has a pleasant creaminess, product of plenty of beauty rest on its lees.
Sipp Mack Pinot Gris Tradition 2014
€21.75 – Available at Mitchell & Son
This organic, 9th generation family winery from Alsace strives for harmony both between hand and nature and between tradition and innovation. All efforts go into preserving the fruity freshness of this graceful Pinot Gris.
Zesty lemon aromas are soon followed by a pears and yellow plums. While its nose suggests sweetness, it’s dry and intense on the palate, with great structure and balance.
€14.99 – Available at Martin’s Off Licence, wineonline.ie, Fresh Good Food Market, 64 Wine, Donnybrook Fair
This winery’s history traces back to 1639 and it’s one of the most important names in Alsace and one of the eleven members of the Primum Familiae Vini, a group of premium wineries run by families in some of the world’s top regions.
This friendly white is a blend featuring Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner. A quintessential Alsatian at an excellent value, it brings the best of all its parts into a floral and delicate white with aromas of peach, limes, acacia and orange blossom.
Insight Vineyard Pinot Gris
€16.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
The same cool conditions that confer New Zealand’s Marlborough with its distinctive crispness are to thank for this lean yet fragrant Pinot Gris.
Aromas of fresh nectarines, ripe lemons and quince combine with a moderate acidity and a medium body. A spicy note adds depth and lingers pleasantly on the palate after the sips are gone.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.