As the noble red-wine grape of Burgundy, Pinot Noir ("Pee-no Nwahr" or "Black Pinot") is certainly, and justifiably, the most noteworthy. Its vines grow in tight bunches that may have reminded an early vine grower of a pine cone, leading to the name "Pinot."
But there's also Pinot Blanc ("White Pinot," Italy's Pinot Bianco), Pinot Gris ("Gray Pinot," Pinot Grigio in Italian), and even such less-known but respected varieties as Pinot Meunier ("Miller's Pinot," used in the traditional Champagne blend, whose leaves have a white underside that looks like they're dusted with flour) and the rare Pinot Teinturier ("Dyer's Pinot," with its dark-red juice).
Where did all these Pinot colors come from? Perhaps surprisingly, wine-grape researchers have examined the DNA of many grapes and concluded that all Pinots are descendants (literally, "clonal mutants") of a single ancestor grapevine. One of the earliest cultivated wine grapes, Pinot has been known since ancient Roman times; when branches with different colored fruit occasionally appeared, they were propagated by cuttings, resulting eventually in the array of Pinot colors we know today.
Pinot Grigio doesn't generally get the respect accorded to the great Pinot Noir-based Burgundies. Much of it is made as a tart, simple white wine not intended for contemplation. But at its best, this Italian relative doesn't need to bow to its French cousins, producing a wine of balance, complexity and flavor interest. Like this one ...
Vittorio Puiatti 2000 Collio Pinot Grigio ($16.99)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with Figa coi Fighi, a Veneto dish of calf's liver sauteed with figs and onions.
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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2001