Somehow, it seems that pinot gris too often is overlooked, despite being one of the most deliciously dependable wines produced in the Pacific Northwest.
And this summer’s Cascadia International Wine Competition proved once again that this white grape native to Burgundy is just as worthy of attention as ever.
Stylistic expressions of pinot gris are found throughout the Northwest, ranging from textured examples similar to those in the Alsace region of France near Germany and Switzerland, to the bright and lively pinot grigio in Northern Italy. It’s a grape that’s also allowed to be grown in Champagne and used in sparkling wine production.
In the vineyard, the grape is a historical mutation of pinot noir, and it is naturally a pinkish-skinned grape. Gris, is a French word for the color gray.
Pinot gris got its start in our region thanks to the late David Lett, who first established both pinot noir and pinot gris in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1965. Lett registered the first label in the U.S., under that variety name for the 1970 vintage under The Eyrie Vineyards brand. That means his son, Jason, next year will be bottling the 50th anniversary of his family’s pinot gris.
From Washington’s Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island winemaker Paul Bianchi, who used a 2016 grenache last year to win best of show at the Washington State Wine Competition, displayed his versatility by earning best of class in the pinot gris category at this year’s Cascadia.
However, that showing is not surprising after learning that he sourced his pinot gris from Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. The family-owned site near Prosser recently has emerged as one of the region’s top sources for albarino — the exciting Spanish white grape made famous in our corner of the world by Abacela in Southern Oregon.
While in the Northwest, we think of “pinot gris and things from the sea” — a food-pairing phrase attributed to Spokane author Candace Ann Frasher. Pinot gris also is agreeable with summertime salads, a sandwich featuring poultry or pork, and lighter grilled fare such as kebabs and bratwurst.
Here are the top four examples of pinot gris entered into the eighth Cascadia International, which included more than 750 entries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and Montana. Find the full results at www.greatnorthwestwine.com. Ask for these wines at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
Jones of Washington 2017 Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $14: The Ancient Lakes growing region in the Columbia Basin is known for stunning white wines that are focused on fruit and minerality. This pinot gris produced by decorated winemaker Victor Palencia for the Jones family fits the profile. A bottom note of cantaloupe is accented with Meyer lemon and fresh pear on the nose. These flavors are echoed on the palate and enhanced by crushed rock toward the finish. It’s a fresh and zippy sipper that’s perfect for a warm day.
King Estate Winery 2018 Domaine Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley $29: The Kings of Pinot dub this bottling as worthy of their “Domaine” tier, and this sleek new bottle contains an elegant wine that you want to have in the house. A product of the largest Biodynamic vineyard in the U.S., its aromas of lime and pear are followed by flavors of lime and Asian pear. The complex and layered structure created by six months of sur lie aging is capped by a lengthy finish of crisp acidity and minerality. Brent Stone, a product of Washington State University’s winemaking program, projects a decade of enjoyment is in store for this wine.
Amelia Wynn Winery 2019 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley $20: In 2018, self-taught Bainbridge Island winemaker Paul Bianchi earned a gold medal at the Washington State Wine Competition with a 2017 albarino from Crawford Vineyard. Once again, Amelia Wynn with a strutting rooster on the label of its pinot gris — grown by Charlie and Connie Crawford — signals a wine worth crowing about. It sports bright lime, pear and zest in its aromas, then delivers lime, pear and apple alongside brilliant, lingering acidity. Suggested pairings include delicate fish, crab, prawns and mild soft-ripened cheese, all of which are available at the Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2019 Private Reserve Pinot Gris, Golden Mile Bench, $14: Walter Gehringer, the winemaker, and his grape-growing brother Gordon Gehringer have earned multiple platinum awards from Wine Press Northwest magazine for their work with pinot gris. This new release lines up alongside those. These British Columbia standouts combine to present perfumed aromas of white peach, Fuji apple and lime zest. The palate has a soft vitality with orchard fruit, florals and a delicate mineral note. It’s a lovely version of pinot gris and deserves a trip up to the stunning Okanagan Valley.
Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.