The average consumer knows Pinot Gris very well but usually as Pinot Grigio, an often easy-drinking white from northeastern Italy. In this part of the world, it’s a wine that pairs well with a variety of foods and nearly anything from the sea, all the while showing its crisp, sweet fruit flavors, brisk acidity and quaffable personality. However, in other parts of the world, such as Alsace, France, Pinot Gris shakes off its light heart and dons a shroud of structure and spice. We’re talking about serious wines that can sometimes require time in the cellar to fully express their potential.
When it comes to Pinot Gris, it’s important to know what you’re buying because each style opens a whole new variety of food pairing ideas and roadblocks. In the last few weeks, I’ve tasted Pinot Gris from Italy, France, Oregon, California and even delved into “orange” style wines (which often use Pinot Gris). In each case, I have been pairing them with a variety of recipes to find what pairs best.
What I’ve learned is that Pinot Gris is well worth my attention and yours as well. This is not just a light-hearted wine from Northern Italy.
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Beyond Your Typical Pinot Grigio
The winemakers in Friuli continue to experiment with skin fermentations and the expert use of oak. Nowhere is this more evident than at Vie di Romans. Their Pinot Grigio is sure to be one of the most unique of its kind. It’s incredibly fragrant, soft and plush on the palate and has a hint of fruit sweetness that opens up a myriad of pairing possibilities.
In the end, the ultimate match ended up being Pork Saltimbocca with Polenta. The salty profile of the meat mixed with sage was completely contrasted by the ripe fruit of this Pinot Gris. Remember, salty and sweet is a great combination in food and wine pairing. Add the Fontina cheese to contrast the vibrant acidity and you have a perfect food and wine combination.
2009 Vie di Romans Friuli Isonzo Pinot Grigio Dessimis – The nose was exuberant with aromas of ripe peach, grapefruit, spicy floral notes, toasted cashew and brown sugar. On the palate, it was silky and rich with a hint of sweetness. Sweet peach, orange zest and spices saturated the senses with a slight bitter note toward the close. This wine made me rethink Pinot Grigio with its intense bouquet, rich presence on the palate and satisfying finish. It was like eating a perfectly ripe peach from start to finish but with all the added layers of floral and spice. (91 points)
Right at Home In Alsace
Pinot Gris from Alsace, once referred to as Tokay d’Alsace, is right at home here with the cool climate, volcanic soils and dry autumn weather. This combination allows Pinot Gris to develop intense flavors, a completely different aromatic profile and optimal ripeness. These are truly great wines that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
One thing to consider when pairing a Pinot Gris from Alsace is its level of sweetness. The drier styles go well with items like chicken, veal, mushrooms, salmon and scallops. The sweeter, richer wines can handle spicy dishes, such as curries, or something as rich as a plate of foie gras. However, when you have a wine with just a slightly off-dry personality, like the one I’m recommending, recipes that are slightly smoky are what really pair best. Lentils with Smoked Sausage and Carrots were a great complement to this Pinot Gris, a recipe that I truly fell in love with.
2009 Pierre Frick Pinot Gris Vorbourg – The nose show spiced apple, almond and hints of grass. On the palate, it was silky and filled the senses with flavors of sweet peach, apples and spice, balanced by a perfect touch of acidity. The finish was long, as the fruit seemed to slowly melt away from the palate, leaving tingling spice notes on the tongue. This wine was a pleasure to drink. (91 points)
Do you know “orange” wine?
One of the standout wineries in the “orange” wine movement isn’t making wine in Italy, or even Europe for that matter. Channing Daughters is a winery located on the South Fork of Long Island, New York. There’s no denying that the Ramato, an orange style wine made from Pinot Grigio, can stand tall against its peers. However, orange wine presents an interesting challenge for food pairing because it doesn’t behave like a white or a red, instead falling somewhere in the middle.
Pinot Gris is known to pair well with fish, yet it’s especially well known to pair well with salmon. In the case of the Channing Daughter’s Ramato, a Spice-Crusted Salmon provided the perfect balance. It was something about the spicy nature of both items that really made it work, that and the moist meat of the salmon contrasted by the dried fruit and brisk acidity of the wine. You can literally feel satisfied by just breathing in the aromas of these two items together. Spell-binding.
2011 Channing Daughters Ramato – The nose was intoxicating and ever-changing, like a floral perfume that draws you in with aromas of peach, ginger preserves, dandelion, brown sugar, honey and herbal tea leaves. On the palate, it showed brisk acidity with inner floral notes, minerals and dried apricot, yet it lost some of its momentum toward the close and finished clean and weightless. (88 points)
The Best of Both Worlds
I remember reading once that Pinot Gris from Oregon tread the middle ground between Italy and Alsace. I have to say I agree, and it’s an amazing mix. The fresh, brisk acidity of Italy mixed with the ripe, focused fruit of Alsace, with a nose that invokes more earth and savory tones, give these wines their own niche in the market.
As for pairing this wine, there was no competition. Sautéed Chicken was a clear winner. I tried this against a variety of pan sauces and almost deciding a sauce of shallot, capers, lemon and butter would be my favorite, I ended up going with a recipe of Chicken Sautéed with Apples. This was a great pairing of complementing flavors and it used the wine’s effervescence to lift the dish’s flavors to new heights.
*Do take note: I had much better luck with this recipe when I removed the chicken from the pan about three minutes earlier than instructed and let it rest covered in foil.
2010 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris – The nose showed green apple with light lemon, grasses and salty cheese rind. On the palate, it was light with a hint of sweetness and a spritz of effervescence, showing citrus fruits and young white peach. The finish was clean and refreshing with mineral tinged white fruit left lingering on the palate. (88 points)
Back to Northern Italy
It was the Pinot Grigio of Northern Italy that was my first introduction to Italian white wine. I’m sure many of you share this experience. What’s not to like? These wines have ripe fruit, great acidity and go down like lemonade on a blistering hot day. They also pair very well with food, especially seafood.
One of my favorite pairings is a crisp Pinot Grigio with Seafood Risotto. They simply go well together. It’s something about the acidic bite of the Pinot cutting through the richness of the rice and how the seafood, which has infused its essence into the dish, slowly releases its flavors on the palate and is then washed clean with a sip of refreshing Pinot Grigio. Can you tell I’m in love? My only other recommendation is to enjoy this outdoors on a sunny, dry day. You will know a slice of heaven.
2010 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT – The nose showed pear, white flowers, light citrus and wheat. On the palate, I found apple and citrus with crisp acidity and an attractive, oily weight. The finish was long with crisp apple. This is an excellent QPR (Quality Price Ratio) at a price that you can drink or toss it into the night’s supper. Well done! (89 points)