Posted by: tomciocco | May 10, 2014

OREGON PINOT GRIS – FOR THIS WINO, IT’S THE TOPS

A quick perusal of these pages will make it abundantly clear that I favor Old World wines: Italy, France, Portugal and Austria in particular. For me lots of new world wines (Australia, and to a lesser extent California) are often just “over the top”, that is, too much of everything: oak, alcohol, tannin, body, etc. But, there are a select few areas in the The New World that really get my engine revving, and one of those is the Willamette Valley in Oregon; their Pinot Noirs are very, very good, but for me, their Pinot Gris is superb, and I’d go out on a limb and say the best in the world.

The devotees of Alsatian Pinot Gris will and should be the first to step out to pick up the gauntlet that I’ve just thrown down, and depending on you palate, they can make a very strong case. Alsatian Pinot Gris’ certainly command the highest prices in the market, but for all of their depth and richness, many are a bit on the sweet side and can lean to some somewhat overbearingly funky flavors and petroleum aromas that I find to be a bit much. Northern Italy makes lakes of Pinot Grigio (as the grape is called there) and a select set are very good indeed, but the terroir of Northern Italy yield more restrained and slightly austere wines that don’t fully express the full capabilities of this variety. And Lord knows that much if not most of the Italian Pinot Grigio made is not much more than boring, cheap plonk destined to be poured by the glass in a million restaurants worldwide with little more than profit margin in mind.

Interestingly, like its red-skinned daddy Pinot Noir, the dusty pink or light red-skinned Pinot Gris (why more rose` Pinot Gris isn’t made is beyond me, but that seems to be changing rapidly of late) originates in Burgundy where it goes by the name Pinot Beurot, but only extremely scant plantings remain there. And it undoubtedly will also come as a great surprise to most that the first place this variety was likely produced in any serious quantities was in Hungary where legend has it that it has been cultivated since the late Middle Ages which is clearly long ago enough that it actually has taken a Hungarian name – Szurkebarat – which translates as “grey monk”, a name which directly speaks to its skin color and the folks who purportedly carried it there.

The Hungarians do one hell of job with this now International variety, but again, for me, Oregon’s Willamette Valley brings out the best aromatic qualities of Pinot Gris AND the finest aspects of its rich texture that it deftly balances with clean and fresh acidity that no other region can match. Tonight’s particularly svelte example of Oregon Pinot Gris displays this tartly complex acidity in spades.

So with this American wine, I decided to make a pairing with a triumverate of American cheeses: Humboldt Fog from California, Prairie Breeze from Wisconsin and Havilah from my beloved New Jersey, accompanied by slices of Gala apples, raw fennel, walnuts and some really good, chewy bread.

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Montinore Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2013

Pinkish, coppery tinged pale golden color. Punchy and charming nose of Comice pear, white currants, mandarin orange, lychee nuts, aromatic herbs, toasted grains, sweetened ginger syrup and dried lily. In the mouth the wine is fairly lean and bright with a fresh and stony acidity and carries flavors of lime, green melon and notes of pineapple supported by flavors of yogurt, vanilla bean and ground coriander seeds. The finish is long and wonderfully bittersweet. An excellent value.

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