The many flavors of Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio, as vowel-happy Italians call the same grape) has become such a popular wine for casual sipping in recent years that some wine enthusiasts tend to dismiss most of it as bland, boring stuff.
But just like every other significant wine-grape variety, from Chardonnay to Merlot to Shiraz and beyond, generalizations fail in the face of specific examples to the contrary. And when we consider that Pinot Gris is not merely a member of the excellent Pinot family but may be its progenitor, it boggles credulity to presume that it can't make a memorable wine.
In search of wines bold enough to stand up to a St. Patrick's Day seasonal feast of corned beef and cabbage, I recently pulled the corks from two very different examples, both excellent, and neither at all what you might expect if your Pinot Gris palate has been weaned on the usual suspects from Northern Italy or the U.S. West Coast.
First up was a Tokay Pinot Gris from Alsace, where Pinot Gris was traditionally called Tokay d'Alsace, based on a purported shared history with the Hungarian Tokaji, a story mirrored in the Tocai Friulano of Northeastern Italy. (In an effort to sort out all this confusion, European Union regulators are changing the rules, with Tokay Pinot Gris said to be a midway point in an eventual effort to banish the word "Tokay" and variations from all versions except the Hungarian.) A big, muscular Alsatian, I found it quite reminiscent of the style of the highly rated Zind-Humbrecht but, in my opinion, more interesting.
My second St. Paddy's Pinot Gris is German, from the Baden region, which not coincidentally is just a grape's throw across the Rhine from France's Alsace. Warmer and more southerly than Germany's more familiar Rhine and Mosel valleys, Baden tends to produce richer, riper wines of greater alcoholic strength than its northerly neighbors. Today's wine is imported for my friend and frequent WineLoversPage.com contributor Randy Caparoso, a noted sommelier and food-wine-matching expert who has recently begun distributing a select portfolio of quality wines under his personal label. Mouth-filling and subtle, the wine offers elegance where the Alsatian Pinot Gris showed brawn; again, however, it's far from being your grandmother's Pinot Gris.
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Chateau d'Orschwihr 2000 Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris Bollenberg ($14.99)
Clear straw color, with a golden hue. Forward and complex citric aromas, grapefruit and lemon-lime, add complexity with a hint of orange-blossom honey and a lovely scent that evokes wet stones after a rain. Full and ripe, creamy mouthfeel becomes almost unctuous as the wine warms in the glass; there may be just a touch of sweetness, but it's not out of place in the bold context of acidity, powerful (14.9 percent) alcohol and stony minerality. U.S. importer: Langdon Shiverick, Cleveland. (March 15, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Wines as bold as this aren't always easy food matches, but it had what it took to stand up to a flavorful holiday meal of juicy corned beef with potatoes, onions and cabbage.
VALUE: An exceptional white wine, fully justifies its mid-teens price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink. Pinot Gris isn't usually considered a wine for aging, and the golden hue of this 2000 - recently purchased here, but already two years behind the current release - suggests that it has already evolved a bit. (For the experimentally inclined, aging a wine this powerful and balanced might make an interesting test in challenging the conventional wisdom, if you have good cellar conditions.)
WEB LINK: You'll find the Chateau d'Orschwihr Website in French and English at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Look for Chateau d'Orschwihr on Wine-Searcher.com:
Caparoso 2002 Baden Pinot Gris ($20)
This is a very pale straw-color wine, with fresh and appealing melon aromas. On the palate it presents crisp honeydew melon and gentle acidity in perfect balance, with a medium-bodied texture that becomes increasingly lush as the wine warms in the glass. A delicious wine, it seems so fresh and quenching that you're tempted to gulp it, but its clean, subtle delicacy is interesting enough to justify slowing down for more contemplative sipping. U.S. importer: USA Wine West, San Rafael, Calif. (March 15, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Randy Caparoso says this wine is styled for "contemporary, sauce- (or texture-) oriented cuisines and perhaps even better in new style dishes (especially 'raw' foods) couched in natural vinaigrettes." I respect that, but can testify that it also made a stunning match with good old-fashioned corned beef and cabbage (albeit with a quality corned brisket from a natural, hormone-free beef supplier).
VALUE: The $20 tag comes into perspective against the competition: It dominates the well-known Pinot Grigio labels at the same or higher price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's designed for immediate enjoyment, but certainly won't fade in the next year or two.
WEB LINK: For information on this and other Caparoso wines, see
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Retail and restaurant sources will be found on the Caparoso Website. You can also find other Caparoso wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, March 17, 2004