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Why do I hate Pinot grigio but love Pinot gris?

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Chalk it up to bad luck if you will, but nearly every pinot grigio I've tasted was insipid and neutral-tasting at best (not to mention served way too cold).

On the other hand, the majority of the pinot gris I've tried were round, expressive, slightly honeyed, with beautiful balance.

Is it simply that there's a lot of low quality pinot grigio floating about, or could it be that Oregonians and Alsatians know better what to do with this varietal than Italians?

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  1. A lot of Italian pinot grigio comes from high-yield, mechanically farmed vineyards and is produced using industrial methods. It's also often picked at less than optimum ripeness. Many Alsatian producers, on the other hand, limit yields, farm and harvest by hand, sort before pressing and have an artisanal approach to winemaking. They also come from a culture that has long valued varietal expression. Don't give up on Italy however, at least not before you've tried the Lis Neris or Alois Lageder PGs.

    1. It has a lot to do with climate, terrior, and dedication to making a fine product. There are some good Italian PGs. They come from Friuli and way up north near the border with Switzerland. (Jermann and Schiopetto are the two most well known high quality Italian PG producers -- but I still think they are both overpriced.) When te Italians get it right, it tastes more like an Oregon PG to me than a good Alsatian.

      Nothing is like a good Alsatian (Tokay) Pinot Gris. Zind-Humbrecht's Pinot Gris are among my favorite white wines of the world.

      1. How funny, since last night I tried both a pinot grigio and a pinot gris at a tasting. My understanding is that the one vine is a mutation of the other and not simply the same grape in a different language. The Alsatian pinot gris I had was very yeasty and fruity; completely the opposite of the pinot grigio which was very dry, clean and crisp. I think it's a matter of taste - I tend to me more partial to the drier, crisper stuff. Admitedly though, if I were to match most grigios to most food the wine tends to fade.

        14 Replies
        1. re: OCKevin

          They are EXACTLY the same grape.

          1. re: zin1953

            I was confused myself, but let me quote you directly from this handout I got from Thursday night: "Pinot Grigio: This is the Italian version of Pinot Gris; it is a mutation and not a transplated rootstock....." then it goes on to tell about the regions in Italy the grape is grown, etc. Anyway, I ought to mention the "all caps" response I got to my post from you to my wine tasting instructor and see if he can clear things up!

            1. re: OCKevin

              It's a mutation from Pinot Noir.

              1. re: OCKevin

                OK, first of all, "not transplanted rootstock" makes no sense whatsoever! I don't have a clue what that is trying to say. Virtually all Vitis vinifera cultivars are grafted onto an array of rootstocks; very few vines are actually planted on their own roots.

                Every grape variety has synonyms, and Pinot Gris is no exception. Here is a partial list of the synonyms for Pinot Gris: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Beurot, Malvoisie, Tokay d'Alsace, Tokay-Pinot Gris, Szurkebarat, Rülander, Auvernat Gris, Auxerrois Gris, Fauvet, Fromentot, Grauer Mönch, Grauerburgunder, Grauklevner, and more (depending upon where it is grown).

                Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the EXACT same grape variety. It is, as Maria Lorraine has pointed out, Pinot Noir that is genetically unstable, having mutated countless times to create Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, the grape we in the U.S. call Gamay Beaujolais," and (seemingly) countless clones of Pinot Noir.

                Cheers,
                Jason

                1. re: zin1953

                  Zin, you ought to be teaching my class! I don't what to tell you, I guess this handout we got was cut 'n pasted from different sources without a whole lot of fact-checking. I'm going to e-mail my instructor about it and hope to clarify in a separate post. Anyway, for tonight's dinner I'm staying clear of the pinots and headed to the Loire Valley for some delicious chenin blanc to go with some trout I bought....

                  1. re: OCKevin

                    FWIW, Kevin, I've spent 35 years in the wine trade, and have taught classes for about 30 . . .

                    1. re: OCKevin

                      OCKevin,

                      Far too often, wine classes (and almost every other type of class, for that matter) tries to simplify things, rather than go into great detail. In that simplification, something is often lost. Happens all of the time.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Bill, I completely concur. On the one hand, you can throw the student a ton of information, which by and large would be important for serious study, but difficult to grasp for someone who's there for the fun. On the other, you run the risk of glossing over so much that you actually end up scratching the surface - or worse yet, teaching something that's wrong...? Anyway, I need to e-mail my instructor and find out what the deal is. More to come.

                        1. re: OCKevin

                          My sense is that you've just described two different issues in teaching.

                          Just above, the issue is: In what way does a teacher package and organize information so that it is easily assimilated, and appropriate to her students' current level of knowledge and interest?

                          The wording about Pinot Grigio on your handout is a different issue: that information is both unclear and incorrect.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Maria -- you are wise beyond your years . . . I know that one of my problems as a teacher was that I was always overloading my students with too much information . . . more than once, a student filled out their teacher evaluations saying that my "beginning" course was much more like an "intermediate" level, with more info than they expected. I'd have between 10-25 page handouts for each and every class, along with glossaries, maps, and more . . .

                            They were right: too much info! ;^)

                            Jason

                            1. re: zin1953

                              I sense that all that information was a reflection of the vast storehouse of information inside that JBL cranium, your passion, a desire to share and for
                              others to experience the joy you have.

                              "Wise beyond my years"...hmmm...I'm, uh, no youngster by any means, but still youthful and responsive to the world, I hope! Almost revealed my age there -- big mistake! ~~ Maria

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I, too, have suffered those slings n' arrows. On one hand, I want my students to get ALL of the facts. OTOH, I have had a very difficult time distilling it into a correct abstract. I see so many exeptions, that the distillation process boggs down, but the info is as correct, and as comprehensive, as I can provide.

                                Makes no difference if the subject is wine, food, Photoshop, or, fill in the blank. Sometimes I think that I could write a 1000 page tome on using the Delete key on a computer!

                                I feel your pain,
                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  The instructor re-read the handout and said that taken out of the proper context, it sounded misleading. It is indeed a mutation from pinot noir. He thanked me for spotting it and said he'd clarify it in the next class.

                                  1. re: OCKevin

                                    OTOH, too many folk, and I count myself amongst those ranks, get a bit too hung-up on the genetics of the grapes. I should just kick back and enjoy it, if it's good, and cook with it, if it's otherwise - not talking flaws, or damage here.

                                    Thanks for sharing,
                                    Hunt

              2. i read that italians have a habit of picking the grapes before they have a chance to develop certain characteristics.

                1. Carole Meredith, the grape geneticist, says that "Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio and Ruländer are all just different names for the same variety. It's called Ruländer or Grauer Burgunder in Germany, Pinot Gris in France and Pinot Grigio in Italy."

                  The difference between the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is that they're made in completely different styles. Pinot Grigio is picked youngish, before a lot of the varietal flavors of the Pinot Gris grape appear. It's made in stainless steel tanks and doesn't spend any time in an oak barrel. The result is a lean, crisp, lively wine, sometimes with a slight spritziness.

                  Pinot Gris is picked later so the grapes have a chance to develop fuller flavors. Another reason for the flavor difference: Pinot Gris is usually either barrel-fermented and/or oak barrel-aged for a short while. This adds more flavors and often gives the wine a slightly thicker viscosity and darker color. Honey is often used to describe its flavor, as well as pear, peach, melon and vanilla. In Alsace, oak is used less often yet Alsace's Pinot Gris can be thick, rich and voluptuous. Look for Albert Mann, Weinbach, Josmeyer, and Zind-Humbrecht (pricey). Andre Tempe and Paul Blanck are good buys at $15 and $18.

                  You're right, Oregon is producing some very nice Pinot Gris now, and the charge is on to make it the big white wine of that state. King in Washington State ($14) is a good domestic producer, as are two wineries from Napa Valley: Etude ($23) and Luna ($16). Luna's label says Pinot Grigio but it's really a Pinot Gris and rather lovely. Luna also bottles some Pinot Grigio blends so check to make sure.

                  I've read that in Australia there is some debate over whether to make/grow the wine in a Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio style. Stay tuned, as Oz may be a huge producer.

                  1. >>> Is it simply that there's a lot of low quality pinot grigio floating about, or could it be that Oregonians and Alsatians know better what to do with this varietal than Italians? <<<

                    Short answer: both. There is a lot of low-quality Pinot Grigio floating about. And there are a lot of top-quality Pinot Gris produced in Alsace (and Oregon). But there are some excellent Italian Pinot Grigio out there, too. (And some very poor wnes from Alsace and Oregon!)

                    As both Carswell and Maria Lorraine have said, a lot of Italian Pinot Grgio comes from very high-yield vineyards Overcrop anything, and you're going to lose quality. . (Think, for example, California's Central versus Dry Creek Valley -- you could grow Zinfandel in the Central Valley, but it will never have the character and quality that the same variety will develop in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley.) There is no land available in Alsace or Oregon to over-crop and/or irrigate on the level seen in much of the areas of Italy where Pinot Grigio is planted.

                    Great Italian Pinot Grigio can come from Friuli and the Alto-Adige, but coming from these regions in and of itself is no guarantee of quality. And even then, ***stylistically*** Italian Pinot Grigio is always different from an Alsatian Pinot Gris.

                    Jason

                    1. maybe a colder climate, more minerality, more interesting nose, more subtle. Maybe better producers like Trimbach vs a lot of mediocre pinot grigio makers. I know what you mean though.

                      1. I saw that Kim Crawford has a pinot gris, interested in seeing what they have done.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: chrisinroch

                          Greetings from cold damp Oregon. I think Pinot Gris has taken over as the top producing white here. Yum. Chard has taken a back seat and I'm fine with that, as Pinot is what this part of Oregon is best suited for.

                          1. re: Leonardo

                            And one of the better Pinot Gris I've had from Oregon is from Torii Mor.