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What Is Pinot Gris?
Pinot gris is a white wine grape variety from France and the varietal wine that shares its name. A mutation of pinot noir, pinot gris originated in Burgundy in the Middle Ages and was rediscovered in 1711 in Germany, where it's known as grauburgunder and ruländer. The wine quickly spread to northern Italy (as pinot grigio), Austria, and Hungary (as szürkebarát). In its home country of France, pinot gris plantings are concentrated in the Alsace wine region, where pinot gris wine was once known as Tokay d'Alsace. Pinot gris is the most popular white wine grape in Oregon, and it's also grown in California, Australia, and New Zealand.
What Are the Characteristics of Pinot Gris?
Ginot gris grapes range from gray-tinged pink to blue ("gris" means "gray" in French). Unlike most white grapes, such as pinot blanc and riesling, pinot gris looks more like a red wine grape. Early-ripening pinot gris thrives in cool climates such as Alsace in France, Baden in Germany, and Alto Adige and Veneto in northeastern Italy. When allowed to ripen fully, pinot gris is naturally low in acidity and high in sugar.
What Does Pinot Gris Taste Like?
There are a few different styles of pinot gris, each with its own flavor profile. Compared to other French whites, pinot gris tends to be less aromatic than sauvignon blanc and drier than chardonnay. The typical pinot gris is full-bodied with a fresh, spicy flavor and notes of tropical fruit, stone fruit, or citrus. (The riper the grapes, the less acidic the wine tends to be.)
Although most pinot gris is dry, a small amount of prized Alsace pinot gris is sweet. Vendage tardive (late harvest) refers to wines made with grapes that have dried on the vine to produce a sweet dessert wine, and Alsatian pinot gris grapes affected by botrytis (noble rot) produce even sweeter wines.
Winemakers also use pinot gris to make a skin-contact wine with an orange-pink hue.
Pinot Gris vs. Pinot Grigio: What’s the Difference?
In theory, pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same, as both are made from the same grape. In practice, however, these terms have come to refer to two different flavor profiles: the Italian-style pinot grigio and the French-style pinot gris. Both terroir and winemaking styles influence the flavor of the final product.
Italian pinot grigio wines are light-bodied and crisp, with pear, green apple, and stone fruit flavors and floral aromas, such as honeysuckle. This style is more popular with wine drinkers in the United States. Early-harvested pinot grigio grapes have high acidity.
French pinot gris wines tend to be richer and spicier and are more likely to be cellared and aged than pinot grigios. Pinot gris from the Alsace region in particular is dry, very rich, and not very aromatic, which makes it ideal for serving with food.
How to Pair Pinot Gris With Food
Pinot gris is classically paired with fish and shellfish such as cod, snapper, and mussels, since it won't overwhelm the delicate flavors of seafood. Spicy Alsatian pinot gris can bring out flavors of ginger, turmeric, saffron, and cinnamon in vegetarian stews and curries. Try pinot gris dessert wines with foie gras.
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