Oregon has slowly been carving out a niche for itself with Pinot Gris.
At first, the wines tended to be on the sweet side. Admittedly, the buying public was well served by the chosen moniker, Pinot Gris, over the more common and familiar Pinot Grigio. The difference can be subtle, but in essence the name informs the consumer that the wine should be in the richer, spicy and often just a touch sweet Alsatian style as opposed to the crisper, lighter Northern Italian style denoted by Pinot Grigio.
While many Oregon Pinot Gris wines continue to feature the added roundness of a touch of sugar, not to mention the balance it offers to the natural bitterness of Pinot Gris, fewer and fewer are obviously sweet these days. They are not becoming Pinot Grigio, but rather are showing the maturation of the mindset of many of Oregon’s winemakers. Where once the goal was simply a commercial, successful cash flow product, today the winemakers know that they have to differentiate their products and make a statement with their wines if they want to do more than simply survive.
This latest crop of Oregon’s Pinot Gris runs the gamut from light and fresh to deep and intense, making the name a little less relevant than it once was but offering huge choice to consumers. We can all applaud this development, but it does making buying a random bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris a bit more of a challenge than it once was. The rewards are greater too, so if you start paying attention to Oregon’s Pinot Gris, your palate will be justly rewarded!
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2011 Torii Mor Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 12.8% $18
Mineral, pear and dried citrus peel greet the nose topped with suggestions of ginseng and honeycomb. This is lovely in the mouth, showing a touch of sweetness but remaining airy and deft on the palate. Vibrant acids support citric and sour apple fruit with a nice edge of bitter pear peel. The finish is clean and kind of piercing, more citric than orchard-fruited, but fairly long and ending on a light almond note. This is summer in a glass. I love the balance and elegant scale of this wine. Freaking delicious. 91pts
2011 Lange Pinot Gris Reserve 12.9%
Wonderfully fragrant on the nose with bright notes of pollen, lemon blossom, lemon and a touch of sandy soil. In the mouth, this is just off dry with big acids lending a succulence to what is a lush but not weighty wine. The fruit starts out with an almost grapefruit character due to the high acids, all layered over a mineral base with excellent length and great purity of fruit. The back end sees a bit of orchard fruit popping up along with a hint of lemon oil, all held together with excellent tension and real river stone freshness on the moderately long finish. 91pts
2011 Brooks Pinot Gris Eola Hills 12.3%
Very peachy on the nose with aromas of sweet fruit and peach pits. Becomes pleasantly honeyed, as well as a touch meaty. On entry, this shows vivid acidity and is much lighter on the palate than the nose would imply. Juicy and full of wonderfully fresh fruit. The mid-palate is clear and vibrant, with fruit that really resonates on the moderately long finish. Great acids lend a brisk apple note here and a fine spice note emerges on the finale. 90pts
2007 Belle Pente Pinot Gris 13.5%
Sweet fruit on the nose with great depth of aromatics. An earthy, lightly honeyed style reveals a little raw almond, sweet apple fruit and white floral top note, all with a hint of licorice on the nose. In the mouth, this is firmly round but with fine clarity and a nice edge of bitter apple peels, supported by precise underlying mineral acid. Still rather youthful, though with an edge of softness from age. This is evolving slowly and with great balance. 90pts
2010 Kramer Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris Yamhill-Carlton 13.3% $16
This smells earthy and funky with herbal and old wood aromas. Bright and fresh in the mouth with a lovely hint of tannin underpinning the fresh heirloom apple fruit on the palate. There’s well balanced acidity here which helps to drive the really pure and precise apple fruit of the palate right through the moderately long finish, which shows flashes of mineral and a fine interplay of sweet fruit and bitter apple peels. The nose is a bit funky but the palate shows impressive purity. 89pts
2011 Ponzi Pinot Gris 13%
A bit leafy on the nose with a hint of herb accenting the notes of cut fruit, nice flowers and a hint of minerality. There’s a hint of RS evident up front, though nice acids keep things balanced. Cut heirloom apple fruit dominates the mid-palate, framed by nice pear fruit on the back end. Finishes with good length and steely acidity. This is nicely fruity with good balance in a slightly sweeter style. 88pts
2010 Duck Pond Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 13.5% $13
A nice blend of apple blossom and honeycomb greets the nose followed by a gentle tropical fruit tone and a whiff of smoke. Light and fresh on entry, this is a rounder style of Pinot Gris, texturally very much a hybrid between the tart Italian examples and the richer Alsatian type. There’s a lot of fruit here and while the the wine is mid-bodied, it is quite intensely flavored. Lots of persimmon flavors early on are followed by gentle spice and dried peach notes, all supported by integrated acidity. The finish is nicely clean if not long. A dinner wine as opposed to an aperitif style, though this does firm up on the finish with air. 88pts
2010 Wine by Joe Really Good Pinot Gris Oregon 13.5% $14
Bright and fresh on the nose with an edge of mint and underbrush framing a core of gentle, Asian-spiced green plum fruit. Light and fairly elegant in the mouth, with a juicy character that shows hints of persimmon fruit accenting the core of citrus pith. The finish shows nice tension with a mineral wash. A little simple but fresh and easy to enjoy. 87pts
2009 Kramer Vineyards J Kimberley Reserve Pinot Gris Yamhill-Carlton 14.3% $20
Low and earthy on the nose with floral- and spice-driven aromatics. Noticeably sweet on entry, this is soft, rich and broad in the mouth, lush even. Honey-tinged pear and apricot fruit on the palate turn spicy on the back end. The finish is very clean here, more apple peel than fruit and a bit short, but the finale returns with a nice spice note. This is very much in the Alsatian style. 86pts
2011 King Estate Acrobat Pinot Gris 12.5% $13
Very fruity and perfumed on the nose with a distinct floral character. Subtly sweet on entry, balanced by assertive acidity and a nice touch of trapped CO2, which adds a touch of nervous energy on the palate. The fruit here is quite fresh with a hint of greengage plum adding roundness to the core of citrus and slightly grapey flavors. The finish is lean and tart, attractive in a lemonade kind of way, but it ends somewhat abruptly. 86pts
2011 Benton Lane Pinot Gris 13.55% $16
Minty and floral on the nose with light apple blossom fruit. Round on entry and showing nice apple fruit with a gentle edge of bitter herbs and apple seeds. This shows some sweetness and an underlying bitterness, which adds tension to the rich apple palate though the bitterness wins out on the finish. There’s nice acidity on the palate and the sugar extends the fruit on the finish, but this is a touch clumsy and shows some heat. 85pts