An old axiom about food pairings with pinot gris goes like this: “Pinot gris and things from the sea.”
And that’s why the crisp, refreshing flavors of Northwest pinot gris pair perfectly with our coastline’s natural bounty. Shellfish, halibut, salmon. They all are perfect accompaniments with pinot gris, which has grown into being Oregon’s No. 1 white wine grape and Washington’s No. 3 (behind Chardonnay and Riesling).
Pinot gris is, in fact, not a white grape, as it turns pink when it’s ready to be harvested, and it’s produced in a variety of styles throughout the world — including rosé. In Italy, it’s known as Pinot Grigio. In Germany, it can be Ruländer (sweet) or Grauburgunder (dry). In Alsace, pinot gris long was known as Tokay d’Alsace before Hungarians took legal action.
King Estate near Eugene, Oregon, remains arguably the Northwest’s most important ambassador of pinot gris, producing 200,000 cases of Burgundian-inspired wine throughout its portfolio. It also is home to the largest Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. at 1,033 acres. Those standards apply to the winery and the winemaking.
Delicious sister brand Acrobat also is gaining traction in the marketplace with its sustainable wine on tap (WOT) program. The keg that feeds the tap is the equivalent of nearly 27 bottles of wine, and the wine stays fresh for two months. Pinot gris is an ideal wine for taps.
About 15 years ago, famed British author Jancis Robinson described pinot gris as “very fashionable in Italy, practically ignored in the ‘New World.’ ” That’s not the case in this corner of North America. Here are several delicious examples of pinot gris from Oregon and Washington that we’ve tasted recently. They are quite affordable, and ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.
King Estate 2015 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: The winemaking tandem of Spencer Spetnagel and Brent Stone make King Estate’s flagship pinot gris predictably delicious. Engagement begins with aromas of honeydew melon, Red Delicious apple and peach taffy, followed by orchard fruit flavors of white peach, Asian pear and a strong burst of lemony citrus that keeps this fruity but far from sweet (0.4 percent residual sugar). The King family’s culinary team offers a variety of wine-pairing recipes on their site, including Yukon potato gnocchi with spiced pumpkin and dark raisins. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Acrobat 2015 Pinot Gris, Oregon, $13: King Estate goes beyond their iconic Territorial Road property for the majority of this harvest, which came earlier than ever in 2015. Remarkable aromas of peach, Key lime and grapefruit pick up secondary notes of flannel sheets. Three months on the lees and 0.5% residual sugar steer the structure down the path of Bosc pear and jasmine with more orchard fruit and delicious lemony acidity. (13.5% alc.)
Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2015 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $19: Of the five stand-alone varieties bottled under this second label for Walla Walla’s Dusted Valley, pinot gris is the largest component. It’s a delicious, fruity and crisp version. Stainless steel production brings aromas and flavors of pineapple, Uncola and jasmine with tangy tartness and a finish of lemon meringue pie. Enjoy with creamy pasta, smoked foods and shrimp satay. (12.9% alc.)
Elk Cove Vineyards 2015 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: Year after year, one of Oregon’s largest productions of pinot gris also ranks among the best in the Northwest — thanks to the long-range devotion of the Campbell family and second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell. Some of their vines stem back to 1985, driving a style of orchard and citrus fruits. Aromas of lemon and lime include dusty Bosc pear, honeydew melon, and kiwi with clove. Its clean and crisp flavor profile brings flavors of starfruit and Gala apple, backed by melon and finished with a nibble of pear skin. (13% alc.)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2015 DenHoed Vineyards Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $11: Mike Conway and daughter Natalie shine at their Spokane winery with aromatic whites, and this opens with aromas of white peach, green banana and honeydew melon with orange zest and sweet herbs. The blend of pear, kiwi fruit and Golden Delicious apple flavors make this delicious. Winery matriarch Ellena Conway pairs it with roasted salmon with white wine sauce, which is part of her latest cookbook. (12% alc.)
Ross Andrew Winery 2015 Celilo Vineyard Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, $21: Celilo Vineyard is a prized high-elevation site in Columbia Gorge near Underwood, Wash. And Ross Andrew Mickel’s winemaking allows for a fascinating theme of both tropical and citrus notes. It opens with aromas of tutti-frutti, gooseberry, kiwi and rosewater. The drink offers refreshment from start to finish, bringing vibrant flavors of Granny Smith apple, Key lime, Bosc pear skin and Mandarin orange. (12.1% alc.)
Silvan Ridge Winery 2015 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $16: Argentine winemaker Juan Pablo Valot creates the pinot gris for this historic Eugene property in a crisp Oregon style. In fact, it’s a bone-dry pinot gris for Sauvignon Blanc lovers with the focus on gooseberry, lime and lemon with minerality and scintillating acidity that screams for oysters on the half shell. (13% alc.)
Winter’s Hill Winery 2015 Estate Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, $19: The Gladhart family’s certified L.I.V.E. (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) estate is in the heart of the Dundee Hills, and there’s neither oak nor malolactic fermentation involved in this bottling. That allows for a theme of butterscotch, Bosc pear, yellow grapefruit and lemon oil, capped by a mouthwatering finish of limeade. (14.1% alc.)