To Gris or not to Gris; that is the question. William Shakespeare's Hamlet has been recreated on film and stage countless times around the world. The juicy story remains, but the theatrics and personalities change depending on who's giving it direction. Pinot Gris is the same. It can create a light and easy drinking Pinot Grigio from Italy or rich and unctuous Vendange Tardives from Alsace, France.
It's thought that Pinot Gris mutated from the red Pinot Noir grape. Gris refers to the color of the grey grapes and Pinot comes from the French word meaning pine cone, which describes the shape of the clusters. Pinot Gris was documented in the Middle Ages growing in the Burgundy region of France, where Pinot Noir is legendary. It made its way north to Alsace then on to northeastern Italy where it became Pinot Grigio. Given the lax standards and ability to overproduce this grape, the Italians created an ocean of Pinot Grigio varying in quality and consistency. In 1966 a visionary Oregon wine maker named David Lett first planted the grape in the US, but it was King Estate Winery who put domestic Pinot Gris on the map.
It seems that most people's first experience with Pinot Gris involves a less-expensive, mass-produced Pinot Grigio from either Alto Adige or Fruli Venezia-Gulia. Not a bad place to start, but just as we discover that filet mignon tastes better than chuck roast, maybe it's time to explore some Pinot Gris/Grigio's more than $15 a bottle?
Bootleggers Liquor Outlet in Mays Landing has Banfi's San Angelo Pinot Grigio for $17.99. This wine is filled with pear blossom, orange zest, lemon peel and white carnation aromas and flavors. The fruit comes from the legendary Banfi estate in Tuscany where it ripens to perfection. This would be a perfect pairing for fresh-caught, fried calamari with citrus aioli.
Joe Canal's in Egg Harbor Township has the King Estate Pinot Grigio from Oregon for only $15.00. This little beauty is filled with aromas and flavors of green apple, white grapefruit, honeydew melon, snapdragon and kafir zest. They use only organic grapes from their estate so only the purest flavors come through. This is a great wine to sip on its own or enjoy with a summer fruit and cheese plate.
Circle Liquor in Somers Point has Domaine Barmes-Buecher Pinot Gris from Alsace for just $22.99. This will knock your socks off. It has a little fuller mouth feel than other Pinot Gris/Grigio's. The aromas are more concentrated due to the location the grapes are grown and the wine explodes with stone fruit, lilies, lemongrass and dried citrus peel aromas and flavors. There may even be a touch of sweetness that plays with your palate. I enjoy this with a loved one and a great conversation.
When it comes to which style you prefer, maybe you can consider Shakespeare's advice, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Anjoleena Griffin-Holst has been Wine Director at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa since 2006 and is the only female wine director at a casino-resort in the United States. She helped establish Borgata's reputation for its impressive wines, which includes more than 40,000 bottles and recently received four Best of Award of Excellence and two Award of Excellence by Wine Spectators 2011 Restaurant Awards. Her column runs every other week.