At a friend’s recent mudbug—that’s crawfish, to the uninitiated—boil, I was reminded of both how much I enjoy Pinot Gris wines and how versatile they are. Sipping Adelsheim Pinot Gris ($18.99) from Oregon, I noticed how this nuanced wine worked so well with boiled, spicy crawfish, corn, spuds and even artichokes. Pinot Gris is generally a good choice for clams, fish and most lighter seafood, as well.
Called Pinot Gris in France’s Alsace region and in the United States, it’s a pink-skinned grape known in Italy as Pinot Grigio, in Germany as Rulander and as Grauer Burgunder in Austria. The Swiss call it Malvoisie. But wherever you find it, wines made from the Pinot Gris grape are, above all, versatile. If you’re not drinking it, you should be.
Like with most grape varietals, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio come in a variety of styles, ranging from bone dry and crisp to slightly sweet, and from being lighter than air in body to full and rich enough to eat with meat. Indeed, Pinot Gris is the classic pairing for choucroute in Alsace. With the exception of one or two from California, I’ve never met a Pinot Gris or Grigio that I didn’t like. Or, at least, I’ve never met a Pinot Gris or Grigio that was offensive. “Harmless” is a term that wouldn’t be inappropriate, which also makes it a slam-dunk to serve at barbecues, picnics and other summer outings.
Most Pinot Grigio comes from the northeast of Italy and the Lombardy area. Italian Pinot Grigio tends to be lighter in style than Pinot Gris from France or the United States, with no trace of oak and little or no aroma on the nose. Most of it is wonderfully inexpensive. But it’s also not a wine to put away in the cellar. Most of it should be served young, chilled and without a lot of fanfare. Since it’s light, crisp and acidic, Pinot Grigio enhances salty, spicy and fried foods. So, it’s a natural choice for fried calamari, fettuccine Alfredo and spicy Asian dishes when you don’t want to drink something as sweet as Gewurztraminer. Some of the Italian Pinot Grigio producers I’m fond of include Maso Poli, Lageder, Tiefenbrunner, Livio Felluga and Mezzacorona.
My first encounter with Alsatian Pinot Gris was in Strasbourg, where the natives drink copious amounts with their foie gras and aforementioned choucroute. Although made from the same grape, Alsatian Pinot Gris is a bit bigger and a bit bolder than its Italian cousin, not to mention a bit more expensive. It’s a sturdier wine, generally with more body and higher alcohol content. And it’s known for its distinctive “flinty” flavor and aromas, reflective of the minerals in the rich soil on which the grapes are grown in Alsace. More so than Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris is a serious food wine that can hold its own with the smoked meats and other hearty dishes that are standard fare in places like Strasbourg. Good choices for Alsatian Pinot Gris include Schlumberger, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Trimbach and Hugel. Recently, I picked up a bottle I hadn’t tried before: Helfrich Pinot Gris 2008 ($13.99), which was simply marvelous.
Here in America, Pinot Gris is made in California, Oregon and Washington, primarily, with the best, in my opinion, coming from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. That Pinot Gris tends to be made in the Alsatian style, with producers like King Estate, Eyrie, Ponzi, WillaKenzie and Adelsheim leading the charge.
So, for summer, pick up some of the other Pinot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.