I don’t hate any of the major wine varieties; there is a time and place for all of them. But it is a very bad wine day when I’m forced to drink Pinot Grigio. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just innocuous, lacking flavor, texture or any other aspect of wine that might hold your attention. If I had to give a gift of wine to someone who doesn’t like wine, I would choose Pinot Grigio.
This lack of flavor is intentional. In most regions of Italy where Pinot Grigio is grown they harvest the grape early to preserve acidity. It’s role is to wash down food, not to be savored, and so flavor development is of secondary importance. But that is a stylistic decision, not an intrinsic feature of the grape because in Alsace, where the very same grape is called “Pinot Gris” the wines can be rich, full-bodied, and full of flavor.
Since returning from Germany many years ago, where I consumed several delicious Alsatian and German Pinot Gris, I’ve been rooting for Oregon to begin making American Pinot Gris in the Alsatian style. But most fall somewhere in between the insipid Italian version and the succulent Alsatian style—crisp and lively but not remarkable, a good summer sipper on a hot day but nothing very serious. Happily, while sampling 15-20 versions of the grape while exploring the Willamette Valley these last three weeks, I’ve found a few that stand out, especially this one from Ponzi Vineyards.
A lovely, intensely perfumed nose unfolds to reveal tangerine, melon, and hints of honeysuckle and fresh cream. On the palate, these ephemeral top notes are freighted with a the slight creaminess that gives it weight, with the flavors bound together by a resonant acidity that gives an underlying edgy quality to the wine. Its like one of those light summer novels you take to the beach that turns out to have a memorable character that really gets under your skin.
A modicum of residual sugar is barely perceptible, overwhelmed by the long, lime-inflected mouthwatering finish.
If you’ve been bored to tears with Pinot Grigio, this Pinot Gris will revive your interest in this grape.
Ponzi Vineyards is an historic Oregon winery, with long experience making Pinot Gris, offering their first vintage in 1981. And with 17,000 cases produced it should be easy to find.
For summertime tunes with a edgy undercurrent, of course the Jaws theme would seem obvious. But this wine is not that edgy. Some summery irony is more appropriate: