Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet Pinot Grigio/Gris - The Gemini

Everyone gets Pinot Grigio. This side of the Gemini's personality is very easy to understand, there are no surprises. As easy as he is to understand, he is just as easy to find. He's everywhere you are. Button-down shirts, sweater vests, khakis, clean shaven face, argyle socks, oxfords - that's a Pinot Grigio look. Just a regular guy. Perhaps he's a great looking regular guy, but you could definitely bring him home to meet the parents.

You can’t miss the evil twin - Pinot Gris. Same guy, different guise. Pungent cologne, bright red jeans, loud, artistic and bizarre - nothing you'd expect from his laced up alter ego! He and Sauvignon Blanc would get along well in theory but in practice they don’t blend! That would be far too much insanity in one room.

Really they are simply two names for the same gray-hued grape - Grigio in Italian, Gris in French, both mean gray. But as they've evolved in their respective homelands, they've evolved into two very unique styles of wine. So unlike Syrah grown in Southern France and Shiraz grown in Australia, the two incarnations of the gray Pinot are very different from eachother indeed.

In northeastern Italy, Pinot Grigio is the sweater vest. It produces light, crisp, clean wines that don’t offend. We call these kinds of wines “crowd pleasers”. From the Tre Venezie comes massive amounts of Pinot Grigio for easy drinking There are notable exceptions from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, smaller parts of the region that take pride in bringing the best out of the variety – floral notes on the nose, minerality on the palate – great structure in general. Nonetheless, they are true to their argyle socks.

In Alsace, the eastern French sliver of land isolated from the rest of the country by the Vosges Mountains, Pinot Gris has both his septum and labret pierced. The dry styles are funky with more body than most white wines of the world – in a way they remind me of extra virgin olive oil in both texture and aroma. The sweeter styles are rich, aromatic and complex, a wine geek’s dream indeed. Overall, Pinot Gris from Alsace (known once upon a time as Tokay Pinot Gris or Tokay d’Alsace) is unlike any other wine experience.

Based on the two benchmark regions, wines produced anywhere else in the world from this variety are named according to the style in which they produce. So you can expect Pinot Grigio from California to be crisp, clean, perhaps more fruity than the Italian version because of the warmer climate, but still simple. These wines are made for the uncomplicated palate, the baked potato set. Then when you see a Pinot Gris from Nelson, New Zealand, you should buckle your seat belt! These wines, like their French contemporaries, are for you food voyeurs who have actually thought about or even ventured a taste of monkey brains… don’t say ewwww!

Pinot Grigio and fried chicken are famous friends, much in the same way that sparkling wine and non-vintage champagne works (and interestingly, some Pinot Grigio does indeed come with a light spritz), the crisp acidity is the perfect foil for this greasy, salty summer favorite. Think potato chips, cheese nachos, over easy eggs – simple, savory, nicely salted, non-spicy, accessible standards.

You must think more gastronomically for Pinot Gris on the other hand. For starters, you can break the rule of white wine with white meat and voyage into the land of the other white meat – pork! Alsace, having been a part of Germany for a period of time, has rich food traditions that mix both cultures into a beautiful pot of proverbial stew. Think sausage with sauerkraut or a pork loin roast with winter vegetables, country or mousse pâté or even souse (braised pigs feet) on a Sunday morning tossed in a vinegar salad with onions and cucumbers, slight pepper. Pinot Gris will handle any of that like a champion for you. For those who don’t partake, duck or game meat give just as much of that rich flavor that hits you in your retro-nasal passages with a funk you hate to love for that Pinot Gris swag.

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 2 Pinot Grigios and 2 Pinot Gris. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for wines from the above mentioned regions. Your two Pinot Grigios should definitely be Italian – go for a $10 bottle and get a recommendation on a $20-25 one (please avoid that one overpriced brand for which you only are really paying a popularity fee – you know who you are!). Both of your Pinot Gris can be French, or you can do as Gris does and have an adventure in another part of the world. The thing is when the wine is labeled Pinot Gris its bound to be interesting! Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_, #PinotGHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. Don’t you just love these assignments??

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