Spotlight: Pinot Grigio
Master Vintner Varietal Spotlight: Pinot Grigio (pea-noh gree-jee-oh)
Most wine drinkers in America associate Pinot Grigio with Italy, but it's a French Variety through and through, well established there (under the name Pinot Gris) in the middle ages. Its DNA is very similar to Pinot Noir: the only thing different about them is the color of the grapes, with Pinot Grigio ranging from greenish-white to a pale gray-blue fruit, compared to the more purple Pinot Noir.
It arrived in Switzerland from Burgundy sometime in the middle Ages, in Hungary by the end of the 1300s, and is thought to have migrated to Alsace and southern Germany by the latter 1500s. Two of the variety’s alternate names, Beurot (monk’s cloth) and Szürkebarat (gray monk) may refer to the berry’s greyish skin and to the vine’s having been propagated in several areas by Cistercian monks.
It was in Italy, however, that Pinot Grigio took on the mantle of a world-class wine. Ideally suited to the hillsides of northern Italy, it was planted in Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli, Trentino and Alto Adige, and eventually became Italy's most popular wine, before coming to the USA to become America's favorite imported white wine.
Adaptable, resistant to mold and mildew, and quite prolific, Pinot Grigio is best suited to deep, warm soils high in minerals and requires a long, cool growing season to develop flavour and delicate aromas while preserving its backbone of acidity.
Some wine snobs look down on Pinot Grigio for being unsophisticated or simple—it isn't, but a few examples from warm climates have low acidity and seem soft and plain. Well grown, in the right areas, Pinot Grigio is as sophisticated and complex as any Chardonnay.
Winemaking styles vary greatly around the world, and as befitting a red grape in white grape's clothing, it can make opulent wines that are described as creamy and, honeyed with scents of spices and blossoms. While that's a pretty interesting approach, it does challenge drinkability at the end of the day.
A more balanced approach (like our own Master Vintner Winemaker's Reserve) yields fresh, crisp, supple wines of genuine charm which show clean white fruit flavours and aromas of apple and pear offset by notes of almonds and acacia flowers.
Pinot Grigio really stands out as an excellent food wine, and pairs exceptionally well with fish. It wasn't until producers in Oregon started selling their Pinot Grigio as the ultimate match for local salmon that the wine really took hold, and it's no wonder that it did. With just the right weight for the rich, flavorful fish and good but not overpowering acidity, it allowed the sweetness of the salmon to come out and subtly mingled with any herbs the chef might use in the dish.
A lesser known but amazing pairing with Pinot Grigio is Spaghetti Carbonara. Decadent guanciale bacon, Pecorino Romano cheese, and eggs enveloping perfectly al dente pasta balances beautifully with the sweet fruit of the wine making the dish seem even richer and more decadent.