Perhaps the least-understood white wine in America is pinot gris. In part, this is because the grape normally associated with France’s Alsace region and Italy simply often is a bland wine when made outside the Pacific Northwest.
But here in Washington and Oregon in particular, pinot gris becomes a magical wine that is the quintessential Northwest white because of its ability to pair perfectly with our region’s styles of cuisine.
Pinot gris is a mutation of pinot noir. While the resulting wine typically is white, the grapes are sort of a grayish red when harvested. At its best, pinot gris is bursting with aromas and flavors of melon, lemon, lime, apple, pear and tropical fruit, all backed with mouth-watering acidity.
Pinot gris works best with seafood, particularly grilled salmon, seared scallops or halibut topped with mango salsa. It also pairs beautifully with chicken, pork or pasta tossed with grilled veggies or a white sauce.
For many years, pinot gris has been Oregon’s No. 1 white grape, surpassing chardonnay more than a decade ago. Washington actually makes a little more pinot gris than Oregon, but it lags far behind chardonnay and riesling in importance.
Here are a few examples of truly delicious pinot gris from Oregon and Washington from a judging we conducted on behalf of Wine Press Northwest magazine. See the complete results at winepressnw.com.
Ask for these wines at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Elk Cove Vineyards 2013 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: This was the top wine in our judging, opening with aromas of apple, pear and a touch of pineapple, followed by hints of jasmine and mint tea. The palate is bursting with flavors of orchard fruit and minerality, all backed with crisp, mouth-watering acidity. (13 percent alcohol)
Lost River Winery 2013 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $15: This Winthrop winery with a Seattle tasting room has crafted a great example of pinot gris. It delivers aromas of lavender, peach, white blossom and Meyer lemon. On the palate, it reveals flavors of fresh pear, apple and a hint of sweet herbs, all backed with terrific acidity. (13.2 percent alcohol)
Maryhill Winery 2013 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $12: Winemaker Richard Batchelor captured bright, refreshing fruit in this young white wine. It opens with notes of Asian pear, apple and minerality, followed by flavors of lemon, honeysuckle and white peach. Said one judge: “This is a benchmark example of pinot gris.” (13.8 percent alcohol)
Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, $19: Longtime Oregon winemaker Rich Cushman is crafting gorgeous wines for this Hood River winery. It offers aromas of green tea, jasmine, minerality and pear, followed by flavors of apple, lemon-lime, white peach and honeysuckle. It’s a rich, round wine with beautiful balance and lush fruit. (12.7 percent alcohol)
Jones of Washington 2013 Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $13: This luscious pinot gris delivers. It presents gorgeous aromas of pear, apple, minerality and lavender, followed by refreshing flavors of rosewater, pear and cantaloupe. It is a beautifully crafted wine. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2013 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $11: Longtime Spokane winemaker Mike Conway now works with daughter Natalie Conway-Barnes on Latah Creek’s wines, and this is one of their finest collaborations. It opens with aromas of crisp apple, Asian pear and minerality, followed by flavors of white peach, lychee and Granny Smith apple. (12 percent alcohol)
Duck Pond Cellars 2013 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $12: This longtime Dundee Hills winery excels at crafting delicious wines. This Pinot Gris offers aromas of Asian pear, white peach and minerality, followed by flavors of pear, Golden Delicious apple and an alluring dusty quality, all backed with just a kiss of sweetness. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Check out their podcast at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.