The Gratifying Pinch of Acidity: A Guide to Pinot Gris

Mutants and mutations have been portrayed as mysterious beings with special characteristics in movies. Interestingly, the wine world is not all too different, and the Pinot Gris comes as a prime example. Pinot Gris is a mutated offshoot of Pinot Noir and carries distinct qualities. Unlike Pinot Noir,  Gris produces white wine and comes in different hues, which include pink, pale purple, and white.

As a varietal wine, Pinot Gris has captivated wine enthusiasts worldwide, charming drinkers with its sweet and spicy profile. It is also known to enhance the flavor and complexity of some varieties of Pinot Noir as a blending component. It comes as no surprise that this wine has been assimilated into the wine lifestyle of many drinkers in New Zealand, the US, and other parts of the world.

Join us at Singapore Wine Vault as we delve into the history, flavor profile, and remarkable brands of Pinot Gris.


Tracing the Tipple’s Roots in Burgundy

The existence of Pinot Gris was first documented in Burgundy, one of France’s foremost wine regions. It was said to be one of the esteemed tipples that were circulating in the region during Medieval times and was  as known as  Fromenteau. Gaining in popularity, the wine reached Switzerland in the 13th century, and then arrived in other European nations not long after.

Fine wine is often associated with royalty, and the Pinot Gris captured the heart and taste buds of Roman emperor Charles IV.  Known advocate of wine and winemaking, Charles truly loved the tipple so much so that he took a good number of vines from France and brought them to Hungary. The Cistercian monks cultivated the vines and helped spread it throughout the region.

In the 17th century, Johann Seger Ruhland, a German merchant, chanced up on a Pinot Gris vine in one of Germany’s wine regions. He cultivated it and eventually produced wine. Impressed with his discovery, he dubbed it Ruhlander, a label carried by the varietal to this date in Germany.

Pinot Gris experienced a surge in popularity throughout Europe, particularly in the Champagne and Burgundy regions. However, that would be short-lived as the vineyards were plagued with limited yields and the inconsistent quality of grapes.

Fortunately, fate was on the side of vintners and wine enthusiasts. Hardier grape strains were developed by vintners through cloning in the early 20th century. Before long, the Pinot Gris gained a resurgence in popularity. An Italian variety called Pinot Grigrio appeared on the market, making it even more popular.

Today, Pinot Gris is cultivated worldwide, taking up around 71,000 hectares in total land area. It currently stands as one of the preferred wines in France, Germany, and Australia, among others.


Pinot Gris Flavor Profile

Pinot Gris can take on a variety of aromas and tastes, depending on where the vines were grown, the terroir, and winemaking techniques applied. There are a handful of commonalities, however. Most versions of Pinot Gris exhibit pronounced undertones of spices, apples, melon, pears, and wildflowers. Hints of smoke and wool are added for complexity.

The Pinot Gris varietal has high sugar content and a low level of acidity. In spite of this, most of the wines are crisp with varying level of sweetness and complexity. The variants coming from regions with nippy climates are particularly crisper, since the lack of heat preserves the acidity.

Usually, the tipples are processed naked, but there are winemakers who opt use oak to increase the wine’s complexity. Malolactic fermentation and lees contact are also applied so that the wines generate a richer mouthfeel and tempered acidity,  This is typified by the tipples in the French wine region Alsace.


Old World vs New World Pinot Gris

The most recognized versions of Pinot Gris come from both Old and New World wine regions, namely Italy, Alsace (France), and Oregon (USA) respectively. Old World producers of Pinot Gris focus on crispness and complexity. These  tipples either have strong acidic bite or a wide assortment of flavors and aromas.

Alsace’s Pinot Gris comes as a particularly spicy wine that offers more complexity than its varietal cousins. The wine is characterized by striking notes of cinnamon, cloves, lemon, ginger, and honey. It also has a full body and a pleasantly long finish. Italy’s Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is light and dry with refreshing crispness.

Representative of the New World Pinot Gris, Oregon’s Pinot Grigio adds a new dimension to defining and savoring the wine. The American version is drier than its Old World counterparts and has an abundance of sweet fruit flavors. It’s generally sweeter than the other incarnations of the wine.

Some New World producers recognize the differences in style and characteristics between the French Pinot Gris and the Italian Pinot Grigio in spite of them coming from the same grape. They produce both variants and have decided to label their wines as “Pinot Gris” and “Pinot Grigio,” instead of a single, sweeping appellation. This  is to avoid confusing their clientele.


Pinot Gris Food Pairing

Fresh food and a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio appear to be an inseparable pair. So what goes well with this delectable drink? Seafood, lightly flavored meat, and fresh greens harmonize well with the wine’s acidity and fruit-forward profile. Often treated as an aperitif, we recommend that you partner the tipple with dishes like walnut salads, goat cheese, chili prawns, steamed fish, white meats, and hors d’oeuvres.

For the more complex Alsace Pinot Gris, you can amp up the spiciness of your meals and go for cuisines with bolder flavors. Its combination of sweetness and mid-level acidity can cut through the spiciness of Indian and Thai dishes and blends well with piquant flavors. We recommend pairing a vintage with Thai Fish Cakes, Chicken Tikki Masala, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Thai Green Curry, and goat cheese.


Wine Aging Potential

The Pinot Gris is commonly intended for early consumption, with malolactic fermentation generally shortening the tipple’s shelf life. It should be served not long after you purchase a bottle. If you plan to age the wine,  let it sit in your wine storage facility for around 1 – 2 years.

But the Alsace Pinot Gris is the exception as it ages quite well. It can be stowed in a wine cellar within 4 – 10 years.

Recommended Brands and Vintages

2008 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Pinot Gris. Critically acclaimed and favored by many wine enthusiasts, this vino is testament to  Alsace’s meticulous, terroir-driven winemaking capabilities. Drinkers get this  refreshing aromas of minerals, fresh citrus fruits, toast, and a sliver of smoke. On the palate, notes of cardamom, peach, oranges, papaya and a tinge of smoke and red berries mix well with its mineral finish.

2013 Jermann Pinot Grigio. Embellished with intense aromatics of ripe fruits, drinkers will be delighted with its crispness and notes of apple, lime, flint, and spice. The extended fruity finish leaves a pleasurable lasting impression.

2014 King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Gris. Oregon has established itself as a venerable source of fine brands of Pinot Gris, and this vintage from King Estate stand as an exceptional representative. Characterized by delicately layered flavors, it captivates with its notes of lemon curd, tropical fruits, and citrus fruits that intermingle with tangy acidity. Generous fruit-forward aromas welcome wine lovers upon opening the bottle.