It makes sense that Pinot Gris is so popular in the Northwest, as it is a bright, fruit-driven wine that pairs beautifully with the abundance of fresh seafood and seasonal produce available to us.
Pinot Gris is the No. 1 white wine grape in Oregon, having surpassed Chardonnay in acreage and tons harvested many years ago. And this, too, makes perfect sense. Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir, the red wine grape that Oregon excels with. (Pinot Blanc, another mutation of Pinot Noir, also has some success stories in Oregon.)
In Washington, Pinot Gris is No. 3 in production behind Chardonnay and Riesling. It has increased in production dramatically in the past few years, rising from 1,600 tons harvested in 2005 to 6,300 tons in 2009.
Historically, Pinot Gris is associated with the Alsace region of France, where it makes up about 14 percent of the vineyard plantings. And it is popular in Italy, where it is called Pinot Grigio.
In the Northwest, wineries use either name, with “Pinot Gris” being dominant in Oregon. A few years ago, Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Wash., famously changed the name of its modestly successful Pinot Gris to Pinot Grigio, and sales skyrocketed — even though the style and quality were unchanged.
In British Columbia, Pinot Gris is taking off in quality and quantity. Thanks to the region’s bright natural acidity, Okanagan Valley Pinot Gris tends to be crisp and fruit-driven, making it a great wine to pair with halibut, salmon, chicken and Asian cuisine.
Here are a few Pinot Gris we’ve recently enjoyed.
King Estate 2008 Domaine Pinot Gris, Oregon, $25: Purity of organic fruit allows this to shine from the start to finish with pineapple, starfruit, dried apricot and orange oil with some candy corn, minerality and celery in the background. Pleasing weight earns this a spot before or during the meal.
Ponzi Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $17: Second-generation winemaker Luisa Ponzi links this vintage to those in 2002 and 2006 for the acidity created. Aromas feature whiffs of grapefruit, lemon/lime, apple, gooseberry, fresh-sliced strawberries and wet stone. Honeydew melon and sugared lime make it delicately sweet on the palate, backed by citrusy acidity. Enjoy with grilled chicken, poached fish or a cheese plate.
VX Vercingetorix Vineyard 2008 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $18: Jason Silva of Arcane Cellars assumed command of the winemaking for Willamette Farms of Oregon, and he’s made an immediate impact. A boost of Riesling (3 percent) allowed him to develop scents of fresh-picked Bartlett pear, Honeycrisp apple, cotton candy, lemon and some minerality. it’s an elegant, simple and well-balanced drink of Bosc pear, apples, kiwi fruit, tangerine and a squirt of lime.
Vin du Lac of Chelan 2008 Lehm Pinot Gris, Chelan County, $20: Larry Lehmbecker straddles oaky and fruit-forward styles with this blend from Michaela’s Vineyard and Fallon Vineyard. On the nose, there’s clementine, kiwi, lemon peel, jasmine, along with the oak influences of angel food cake and butterscotch pudding. It’s a clean drink of Asian pear, unsweetened lemon, some yeastiness and a flake of purple SweeTart candy.
Hoodsport Winery 2008 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $11: Silver Lake’s William Ammons also creates these wines, and this one takes you by surprise. The rich golden hue carries aromas of starfruit, gooseberry, orange peel and yellow grapefruit. Rather than tart or unripe, the palate shows pleasing and rounded flavors of sweetened citrus and starfruit.
Hyatt Vineyards 2008 Pinot Gris, Rattlesnake Hills, $10: The label reads “Pinot Gris,” but the additions of Muscat Ottonel (10 percent), Viognier (9 percent) and Riesling make this an especially showy offering. It’s peachy and floral, backed by apricot, vanilla and orange Creamsicle. A thin line of lemony acidity strikes a balance, giving way to some late tartness.
Lake Breeze Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, $18 CDN: The Patio at Lake Breeze serves its food with this wines while you overlook Okanagan Lake. Bartlett pear and apricot aromas are joined by lots of grapefruit, melon and lingering starfruit.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.