Pinot Grigio being the presumptive definition for easy-drinking white wine, it seemed necessary to review its versatility, given it’s “summertime and the cotton is high”, to quote Cole Porter. Where does the varietal hail from? In which environments does it thrive most? And, importantly, how different are many of the Pinot Grigio offerings on any wine list?
The grape’s roots are in the Burgundy region of France. An offspring of Pinot Noir, a noble varietal known for instability, mutation, and degeneration, Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris, as it came to be known) considers Pinot Blanc a sibling, as the two appear often on the same rootstock, sometimes accompanied by mother Pinot Noir. This clan – known among growers as the Noiren family – has found new roots in many new environments, including Alsace, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and the United States. And speaking to Pinot Gris specifically, it is called by different names in each place it’s grown. The following is a list of those synonyms.
- Pinot Beurot (Burgundy)
- Malvoisie (Loire, Switzerland)
- Tokay (Alsace, changed recently to accommodate the Hungarian Tokay industry)
- Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige, California)
- Rülander, Grauburgunder (Germany)
American interpretations are the focus of this essay, although moderately acidic Italian Pinot Grigio Capasaldo is always a big seller this season. First tasted was La Crema’s offering from Monterey. Comprised of California grapes that hail mostly from vineyards along the Santa Lucia Mountains, its nose suggests fresh stone fruit while hinting at roundly-textured, peach and white nectarine within. Competitor Joel Gott Pinot Gris is a bit less expressive, possibly due to beginnings west of Mount Hood’s shadow. The style is drier, with sour apple on the nose complemented by silkier texture. Its finish shyly implies melon.