Vote 1: Pinot Grigio
The world is abuzz with elections at the moment, so I am sure many a glass of wine is being consumed on both the winning and losing sides. When it comes to wine and politics, Pinot Grigio is the consummate politician. Politically savvy, it reinvents itself to win over its geographic constituency. By turns neutral and bone-dry to the point of tartness or perfumed and weighty with a spicy finish, Pinot Grigio is steadily gaining consumer support.
The varietal is an ancient mutation of the Pinot Noir family, a sort of albino version of the famed red grape from Burgundy. Grigio (pronounced gree-jee-oh) means gray in Italian and the grapes range from pale mauve to silver-gray in colour. The French word for gray is Gris (Gree), thus the variety is labeled as Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris depending upon its origin or, in some cases, winemaker whimsy.
Traditionally, Pinot Grigio is cultivated in northern Italy and Alsace, France. Germany also produces a substantial amount under the name grauburgunder (gray burgundian), though it rarely appears on the international market.
In Italy, Pinot Grigio grapes are harvested early because Italians prefer high acidity levels in their wines. The result is a refreshing drink with neutral flavour that pairs easily with food, especially fatty dishes because it cuts down their oily richness. Pour a glass of Cavit, Trentino Pinot Grigio with next Sunday’s yum cha.
When produced in Alsace, Pinot Gris is a soft, perfumed and weighty wine because Alsatian winemakers leave the grapes on the vine much longer. A grape becomes its most flavourful in the final moments of its life cycle as a last ditch effort to attract birds to disperse its seeds. However there is a corresponding decrease in the grape’s acidity levels, which makes Alsatian Pinot Gris especially well suited for spicy Hunan or Sichuan cuisine.
Pinot Grigio grapes thrive in cool climates, such as New Zealand where planting of the grape is gaining on Sauvignon Blanc. Cairnbrae, Marlborough, Pinot Gris is an excellent example of Kiwi style.
In Asia, Sauvignon Blanc challenges the pervasive Chardonnay grip on power, but in America, Pinot Grigio is the leading opposition. Oregon producers were the first to experiment successfully with the variety, followed by vast plantings in California in the 1990’s.
While Oregon specializes in Pinot Gris à la Alsace, California producers label their wines either as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio depending on the style. Australia, too, is steadily increasing its Pinot Grigio plantings. Long relegated to the wine-by-the-glass position on the wine list, Pinot Grigio is the ideal candidate to rival Chardonnay. A reasonably priced wine that quietly refreshes the palate on a hot summer’s day, Pinot Grigio gets my vote.