Tannic Panic! Issue #39: You Say Pinot Grigio, I Say Potato
"Pinot Grigio" aka "Pinot Gris" aka "Grauburgunder" -- it goes by many names, but one thing is for certain: this white varietal is an international "superhit"
Happy “Wednesday” you INCOMPREHENSIBLY wholesome winos.
By popular demand, we’ve been forced to taste more pinot grigio this week than either of us have in entire calendar years past. But that’s okay, because the cold reality is – we love you. Why haven’t you been returning our calls?
You know what, don’t worry about it.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, two monikers for a single grape variety, bring forth distinct characteristics shaped by varied winemaking styles and regional “expressions.” This versatile white wine grape transcends boundaries (LIKE TODAY’S YOUTH), giving rise to a spectrum of styles—from the zesty and light to the full-bodied and oily, even delving into late-harvested sweet, orange, and rosé variations.
Thriving in cooler climates (UNLIKE ME!) this humble grape is widely produced in regions like Alsace in France, Germany, northeastern Italy (Veneto, Friuli, & Trentino Alto Adige), and the New World regions of Australia, New Zealand, and the USA (especially Oregon and California). The winemaking “journey” of Pinot Gris can involve a variety of techniques such as oak aging, lees stirring, and skin contact.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio vines weave through vineyards worldwide, offering an extensive range of flavors and styles to complement diverse cuisines.
DID YOU KNOW… Pinot Gris originated in the esteemed Burgundy region of France. It is a mutation (a naturally occurring genetic variation) of the HIGHLY overrated (or possibly underrated) Pinot Noir “grape”, making it a “mutation” or “natural clone” of this “renowned” red wine variety. This genetic “quirk” results in the distinct grayish-blue color of Pinot Gris grapes, which inspired its name (“Gris” means “gray” in “French” for all the kids who didn’t know that already). Over time, various clones of Pinot Gris have emerged due to naturally occurring mutations that change the characteristics of the grapes. For example, the Pinot Grigio grape clone used in the higher altitude Italian regions of Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia tend to have smaller berries, resulting in more concentrated flavors than the Pinot Grigio grown in the lower-lying plains of the Veneto region. Winemakers around the world selectively choose these clones to craft wines that align with the local growing conditions, and the desired “style” of the winemaker.
Pinot Grigio (OR W.E. THE HELL YOU WANT TO CALL IT) is produced all over the place, but it is perhaps most famous as a staple of northeastern Italy. For that reason, we took it upon ourselves to try one from each of the 3 most popular areas of production, as well as a smattering of bottles from “supporting regions,” if you won’t, from around the world. We even gave some obscure production areas a gander (I’m looking at you, Transylvania).
Pinot Grigio reigns supreme in Northeastern Italy. Italian Pinot Grigio often exhibits notes of green apple, citrus, and a hint of almond, creating a “delightful” and “easy-drinking” experience. Simpler styles of Italian Pinot Grigio are perfect for sipping on a “sunny afternoon” with your “basic friends” on the beach, or on your cheap patio. Italian Pinot Grigio can present themselves in a wide range of styles, depending on their region of origin. Let’s explore the “landscape” of Pinot Grigio in Northeastern Italy.
This northernmost region of Italy is known for its crisp, refreshing Pinot Grigios. The high altitude and alpine climate of Trentino-Alto Adige contribute to the grapes' ability to maintain high acidity and develop complex flavor profiles. Wines from this region often exhibit bright citrus and green apple notes, with a pronounced minerality and a clean, crisp finish. They can be more aromatic and fuller-bodied than Pinot Grigios from other regions, reflecting the unique “alpine terroir”.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, particularly the areas of Collio and Friuli Isonzo, is celebrated for producing some of Italy's most sophisticated and structured Pinot Grigios. These wines are characterized by their richness, complexity, and often a more pronounced minerality. They may offer flavors of ripe pear, white peach, and almond, with a rounder body and a texture that can range from silky to almost creamy. The Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia is often considered a benchmark for quality, showcasing the grape's potential for depth and complexity.
The Veneto region, especially the areas around the Piave River and Lake Garda, produces Pinot Grigio that is typically lighter and more approachable. These wines are designed for immediate enjoyment, offering fresh, straightforward expressions of the grape. Expect flavors of lemon, lime, and green apple, with a refreshing acidity and a clean finish. The Veneto style is often what people first think of when they imagine Italian Pinot Grigio: easy-drinking, crisp, and perfect for a summer day.
In Alsace, France Pinot Gris takes on a richer, more opulent persona (MUCH LIKE THE PEOPLE OF NORTHERN FRANCE), producing some of the most premium examples of Pinot Gris EVER (wow!). Alsace has a dry and sunny continental climate, which allows for extended ripening, resulting in full-bodied Pinot Gris wines with complex flavor profiles (LIKE ME!).
Summers in Alsace are warm and sunny, providing the vines with ample rays from our friend “Mr. Golden Sun” (remember him?) to foster “grape ripening”. The Alsace region is sheltered by the Vosges Mountains, protecting it from excessive rainfall, and contributing to a drier climate that promotes the development of concentrated flavors in the grapes. Alsatian Pinot Gris is typified by a WONDERFUL little medley of “ripe orchard fruits”, such as peach, apricot, and even a touch of honey (THE GOOD KIND!). Some producers in Alsace may employ techniques like barrel aging and lees stirring to enhance the “texture” and add “layers” of complexity to the wine.
German Pinot Gris, known there as “Grauburgunder” (LOL), strikes a balance between the vibrant acidity found in Italian versions and the opulence of Alsatian expressions. The wines often showcase a harmonious blend of citrus and stone fruit flavors, with a touch of spice. Germany's diverse terroirs contribute to variations in style, from the crisp and mineral-driven to the more rounded and fruity.
USA (Oregon and California)
In the United States, particularly in Oregon and California, Pinot Gris displays a spectrum of styles. Oregon Pinot Gris is celebrated for its vibrant acidity, offering a lively and fresh character. These wines often feature citrus, melon, and pear notes. California, with its diverse microclimates, allows for a broader range of expressions, from the crisp and zesty to fuller-bodied styles with tropical fruit and floral nuances.
Southern Hemisphere & Beyond
We won’t dive too deeply into them here, because we went ahead and didn’t taste any for you this week, but even more expressions of the grape can be found all over the world, notably in New Zealand & Australia where substantial plantings of the variety can be found.
… AND NOW FOR THE REVIEWS (IN ORDER OF PRICE):
Profile: White peach, lemon, tangerine, bubblegum, smarties candies
Dry, high acid, light body, short finish
This nonvintage bad boy from ROMANIA of all places really pleasantly surprised. For $8, it is not a bad deal, featuring very fruit forward flavors with some sugar candy notes (Smarties, candy necklace) and bubblegum. It initially showed aromas of “baby wipe” (you’ll see what I mean), but that dissipated.
A cool wine, if for no other reason than that we don’t see many from this region in the humble states.
Drink solo, or pair with a pasta primavera tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, where the crisp citrus notes and high acid in the wine will complement the freshness of the vegetables.
Profile: Cantaloupe, apple, seashells/brine, almond
Dry, medium+ acid, light body, short finish
Found this to be quite lacking in complexity and concentration. Features a sort of spoiled apple juice flavor on the finish. If I was suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal, I might drink this cold. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.
Do yourself a favor and don’t grab this one off the shelf just because of the low price tag. You can do better!
Profile: Crushed rocks and sea shells, flint, lemon zest, lime, peach, honeydew melon, jasmine and honey.
Dry, high acidity, medium body, long finish
This wine has a ton of “minerality” (the first note I got was of crushed rocks and sea shells #longwalkonthebeach), along with a good balance of concentrated stone fruits and citrus with “bright” acidity. Very well made white wine for the price. 100% stainless steel.
We found it for $16 at the local wine shop, but Total Wine is selling it right now for a steal at $12.
Drink as an aperitif or pair with veggie spring rolls.
Profile: Orange blossom, honeysuckle, orange, toasted almond
Dry, medium+ acid, medium body, medium finish
A very nice wine with concentrated flavors of orangey citrus, complemented by blossom and a hint of toasted almond. At $14 this one is a steal.
Pair with orange glazed braised tofu, or a citrus and avocado salad!
Profile: Pineapple, pear, golden apple, peach, lemon peel, crushed rocks, swimming pool (THE GOOD KIND!), flowers.
Dry, medium+ acidity, medium body, medium finish
Solid New World style of Pinot Gris with plenty of ripe fruit character, balanced by ample crushed rock minerality, subtle floral notes and a hint of “that smell you get when you walk by a chlorinated swimming pool”. Pair with a pool deck (because complementary “flavor” notes are the key to wine pairings)... Or if you feel the need to eat food with this wine, pair with Panang Curry Tofu or pretty much any Thai cuisine.
Profile: Citrus, lemon, Hershey’s kiss, flint
Dry, medium+ acid, light body, short finish
This wine features citrus notes and a distinctive “Hershey’s Kiss” aroma (similar to what we found in the Grand Calcaire Chablis we tasted in our Grgich post), as well as a hint of flint. It features crisp acidity, a light body, lacks complexity and concentration on the palate and has a short finish. In other words, it is not a paragon of quality, but it is refreshing when served cold.
Pair with Mushroom Risotto.
Profile: Lemon, pear, peach, honeydew melon. Very muted flavors
Dry, medium+ acidity, light body, short finish
Very simple wine with somewhat “watered down” flavors of citrus, stone fruit and melon. Nothing flawed or wrong with the wine - it just lacks any form of concentration or complexity beyond the primary fruit, and has a very short finish.
Pair with a hot day, a pool deck and a dull mind (because a “wise” man (ME!) once said: “a simple wine goes with a simple mind”). Alternatively, pair this with a glass of your favorite first growth red Bordeaux and use this wine as a “palate cleanser” between tastes of “the premium zeus juice”.
At $19, we’ll pass.
Profile: Rose oil, honeysuckle, honey, dried apricot, peach nectar, candied orange peel, flint, flint smoke
Medium sweet, medium+ acid, full body, long finish
This wine features layers of pronounced aromas and flavors, with strong floral and candied fruit aromatics. A hint of flint/flint smoke on the finish add a layer of complexity to the wine. It is medium sweet (Alsatian grand cru examples often veer out of “dry” territory into greater levels of sweetness), and has a nice long finish.
Strongly recommend if you like wines with a little residual sugar and a lot of floral character. For me, personally, I’d drink this as a dessert wine, but if medium sweetness is your jam, drink it any time of day.
Pair with a spicy curry dish (like Thai Green curry or Indian Chana Masala), as the sweetness beautifully counterbalances the spiciness and its pronounced flavors stand up with boldly flavored dishes. Alternatively, find harmony with a fruity dessert dish, like a peach cobbler.
So there you have it: the good, the bad, the in between. Wow.
What a wonderfully multifaceted grape.
Really, there’s a style out there for everyone, and because Pinot Grigio/Gris etc. etc. is so widely produced, you can find some great deals if you know where to look.
Remember: COST doesn’t always equal QUALITY — and it certainly won’t always reflect your taste. That’s why it’s more helpful to consider the regional styles and the factors that contribute to price when looking for a bottle.
And when it comes down to it, even though our tastebuds here at Tannic Panic reflect the absolute pinnacle of human taste, the best way to figure out what YOU are into, DEAR WINO, is to go out there and taste with intention yourself.
After all, one winos plonk is another winos pleasure.
Now go on, GIT!
Until next time, HAPPY DRINKING PEOPLE.
Isaac & Zach
Tannic Panic! is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Cheers!