Coke Roth

Smell the Pinot Gris

Thanks in advance for tagging along on this journey into the inaccurate and unbelievable.

I always attempt to broaden the outer boundaries of the gray area between truth and fiction. Exposing you to fact would, after all, be a grand departure from any counterpart political opinion. With all other Wine Press columnists writing with the utmost of veracity, you’ll find balanced, contrasting wine news with my 900 words of highly-compensated, misdirected point of view. By comparison, I make weather forecasters look clairvoyant.

By the time this column gets taken to your bathroom, winter will have been hip-checked into antiquity. You will have ventured into a colorful out-of-doors and will need a glass in hand filled with a wine that parallels the season. It will be time for the delicious and welcomed springtime foods; where citrusy, lighter fare salutes the season.

It is that jubilant time of year when asparagus, avocados and lemons are on sale; where the quench of white wine is rejoiced and when fish can’t wait to bite on a hook. It’s a perfect time to smell the Pinot Gris with a salmon salad.

Honestly, I never thought I would write a column on Pinot Gris. Years ago, I was a fan largely because it was my lovely wife’s go-to wine. Later, we thought the wine became boring; possessing, like my writing, few if any redeeming qualities. Like many, we got all tied up in questing for boldness and structure; abandoning the desire for subtlety and grace.

I not only strayed from Pinot Gris, I abstained. I drank a gazillion varieties of red, sparkling and other white wines, however, no Pinot Gris. I confess….I even drank beer and whisky. If you ever saw me, the last thing that would enter your mind would be that I forgot about food, and I didn’t, I just forgot about lighter food and a balancing beverage. Now, having seen the error of my ways, I’m Baaaaaaack! The Captain has turned off the “No Swallow” sign for Pinot Gris.

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It seems there were a lot of grape cultivar genetic mutations during the late Medieval period, one of which occurred to Pinot Noir somewhere between the middle of France and southern Germany. Plagiarizing spot-on science and rural legend, the black Pinot Noir apparently lightened up halfway to its ultimate, less-colored mutation, Pinot Blanc, and the grayish-blue, sometimes mahogany colored Pinot Gris, or gray Pinot, was morphed.

Most often color from Pinot Gris skin infusion precipitates out, however, occasionally extended skin contact can result in Pinot Gris having a copper hue. Normally, however, its color ranges from pale to full-on straw yellow and sweetness may be bone-dry to sticky sweet. I raise an eyebrow when I see a Pinot Gris Rosé. My guess is that a maverick cellar-master put the Pinot Gris in an unwashed red wine tank and, voila!, a friggin’ miracle…pink Pinot Gris!

With any wine, where and how it is grown and harvested, and how it is made, greatly determines how it smells and tastes(DUH). Despite anomalies and variances, however, I find that there are three basic drier styles of Pinot Gris, whether made in the Northwest or around the globe.

The lighter Italian version and style of Pinot Gris, sometimes called Pinot Grigio, is typically citrusy, zesty, fresh, and ready for that salad referred to above. These are generally cold fermented, low in alcohol, high in fruit, early-to-market wines that taste best within a couple years of the vintage date. Meyer lemon, pear and melon notes dance across your tongue like a ballerina.

The spicier, richer Alsatian style of Pinot Gris has more body. Lucky me, on a recent excursion to the northeast corner of France and the bordering southwest corner of Germany, I re-experienced this sturdier version. The creamy, nutty nuances of aging in neutral barrels greatly contributed to the flavors of Alsatian Pinot Gris and “Grauburgunder” from the Baden region of Germany, along with other contributing factors of variance. Denser fruit flavors of mango and apricot harmonized with lemon zest. As I drool on my keyboard, I suggest you drink Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris with what I had for dinner in Riquewihr, France; Frog Legs Au Poivre, Hazelnut crusted Scallops, Quail with Foie Gras, and then ripened cheese. Next visit, I’ll get past the children’s menu. The Alsatian Pinot Gris accompanying that feast possessed elegant power and sophistication, like a figure skater.

The final version is the kind that pleases the Chardonnay drinker, and pardon me, I am not a fan. Exposing Pinot Gris to new French or American oak, to me, is attempting to transform our ballerina or figure skater into a mixed marshall arts fighter. If I want Chardonnay, I know where to get it, and I don’t want pencil shavings on my salad or Quail. For me, perceptible oak in Pinot Gris has the same mouthwatering appeal as Ketchup on a peanut butter sandwich. But that’s just me, not you.

For me, Pinot Gris should have those melony, citrusy, tropical fruit flavors, moderate to low alcohol, with lip-smacking acidity and just a hint of balancing sugar. With that kind of chemistry, Pinot Gris/Grigio transitions well from an after-work beverage to a friendly dinner companion.

Some wines are made to rumble. Not Pinot Gris….it’s a lover, not a fighter. Engage your spring and summer senses with heavy friends, light food and delicious Pinot Gris…always drinking in moderation, frequently.

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