Meet the Pinot Gris, the Most Elegant Grape

by Sara Rodrigo
pinot gris

Pinot gris is a white grape variety. Many believe it is a mutant clone of the pinot noir variety. Pinot gris is famously used in white wines but also makes an appearance in rosé wines. The word pinot derives partially from the French word for ”pinecone”, possibly because the grapes grow in clusters shaped like pinecones. Pinot gris is grown all over the world and it can be used to produce wines of various colours. The pinot gris clone that grows in Italy is known as pinot grigio.

History

The pinot gris has been known since the Middle Ages and originates in the French region of Burgundy. From there it spread to many other areas of France and the rest of Europe, along with the pinot noir. It reached Switzerland around 1300, and later it spread to the New World.

This grape variety is believed to have been a favourite variety of Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg. With the help of Cistercian monks, he had cuttings of the vine imported to Hungary. The monks planted the vines on the slopes of Badascony in 1375. Not long after this, the vine was known under the name Szürkebarát, which means ”grey monk”. In 1711 the German merchant Johann Seger Ruland discovered a grape growing wild in the fields of the Palatinate. The wine that was produced from this wild variety became known as ruländer. However, it was later discovered that this vine was, in fact, pinot gris.

The grape was popular in Burgundy and Champagne until the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the popularity of the variety declined due to its poor yield and unreliability. Recently, around 2005, the popularity of the pinot gris increased again. It has experienced a new wave of interest under its Italian name pinot grigio and in a strew of New World varietal wines.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have determined that pinot gris has a DNA profile similar to pinot noir. The colour difference stems from a genetic mutation that occurred centuries ago. In fact, the vines and the leaves of both varieties resemble each other so closely that the only thing that differentiates the two is the colour of the fruit.

Pinot Gris grapes

Characteristics of the Pinot Grigio

Pinot gris shares its genetic roots with the red grape pinot noir but the skin of this grape has a lighter colour. Even though the variety originates from Burgundy only a relatively small crop is grown there today. However, the pinot gris has become an important variety in the Alsace region of France, and some of the world’s most acclaimed varieties can be found there. The grape has also spread to Northern Italy where it is known with its Italian name, pinot grigio. You will also find it in regions of the New World, including Oregon. The pinot gris also continues to grow in Germany where it is known under the name Grauburgunder.

The pinot gris berries are much darker than most white grapes and can even appear in both pink and purple hues. It buds and matures early, and it produces a relatively low acidity. This makes it more suitable for cool climates and allows the wines that are produced to maintain a higher degree of freshness. The fruit ripens relatively early and with high sugar levels. This can either produce a sweeter wine or, if it is fermented to create a dry wine, it can produce a wine with high alcohol content.

However, the Italian pinot grigio is so different that it is sometimes difficult to believe that it is the same grape. The bulk of the production is made from grapes that are harvested very early to retain a high acidity.

Wines Made with Pinot Gris

The wines made from pinot gris vary greatly depending on the region and the style of winemaking. Thus, each type of pinot gris grape, like the wines they produce, are different depending on where they grow. As a result, we can choose between different wines and with varied flavours.

The fleshy-textured Alsace pinot gris wines have a medium to full body and a rich floral bouquet. The colour of the wine is similar to that of a lemon. The wines tend to be spicy compared to other pinot gris wines. Although many pinot gris wines are made to be consumed young, the Alsace pinot gris is one that can age well. The best wines remain fresh despite the grape’s natural tendency to produce low acidity and high alcohol content.

In Oregon, the wines are medium-bodied and have a coppery pink colour. The aromas range from pear, apple, and/or melon. The Californian pinot gris are more light-bodied and present a refreshing flavour with some notes of pepper and rocket. Italian wines made from pinot grigio are light-bodied, they have a light, yellow colour and they are more acidic. The German version differentiates itself by presenting more body and a slight balance between acidity and sweetness.

wines of pinot gris

How to pair the Pinot Grigio

A pinot gris white wine pairs perfectly with pasta dishes or white meat such as chicken. On the other hand, pinot grigio wines go perfectly together with fish like salmon or tuna. They also pair well with meals containing fruit such as lemons, oranges, peaches, or apricots.

These wines also pair very well with curry-flavoured Indian food or Japanese food. If you want to pair it with cheese, choose a pinot grigio that goes perfectly with many strong-tasting kinds of cheese and Italian cheeses like ricotta and Asiago. The pinot grigio also complements Spanish cheeses, like a fresh cheese from Burgos or a powerful cured manchego cheese. The contrast between the acidity of the Italian pinot grigio and the power of the manchego cheese is remarkably tasty.

Translated by Karoline Arberg

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