Wine Profile: Pinot Gris

When I could hardly croak out a hymn at church a couple of Sundays ago my friend Noeleen chuckled and suggested that next year I should consider not giving up wine for Lent. As I went down with one bug after another over that six-week period of abstinence I shall certainly be considering her words. But for now Lent is over, and although Summer has officially ended I can’t let it go without profiling one of my favourite Summer wines, Pinot Gris.

Pinot gris
(c) Wine Folly

Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio, is a mutation of Pinot Noir and a cousin of Chardonnay and in New Zealand is usually used to produce a heady, medium to sweetish wine. And in my case, I do mean heady: Pinot Gris goes straight to my head like no other wine. A few months ago a wine writer over here lamented our taste for sweet Pinot Gris, complaining that it ruins out palates for what can in fact just as easily be a wonderfully subtle medium-dry wine with complex characteristics. He is, of course, completely right, and I have tasted the odd Pinot Gris which met that description, complete with notes of green capsicum and lemongrass. It was pleasant and refreshing… but, pleb that I am, I’ll keep Sauvignon Blanc for that and remain quite happy with my sweet Pinot Gris!

It should be added that one of the reasons that Pinot Gris is garnering attention from critics in New Zealand just now is that it’s tipped to be the Next Big Thing here, wine-wise. Mind you, I’ve heard the same thing about Reisling and Merlot: the upshot is that local winemakers are looking to build upon the international success New Zealand has had with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and for the New Zealand wine-drinker that means a huge variety of local produce readily available in the local supermarket or bottle-shop, along with a range of niche wines at our many, many cellar doors (hmmm, perhaps I need to plan a wee road-trip).

Pinot Gris is a white wine, usually pale yellow or straw green in colour. It is light to medium-bodied with a medium level of acidity, and has a typical ABV of around 12% to 13%. It typically has flavours of tropical fruits, citrus and melon, with notes of honey, herbs and smoke although, as that wine writer noted, it can also embrace a more savoury range such as the aforementioned capsicum and lemongrass. A glance at the label will usually give you an idea of what to expect.

Pinot Gris should be served cold, at around 11C to 15C. It pairs well with vegetable dishes, fish and chicken, although I’ve also found its light, sweet-acid character can be great with some spiced dishes, like stir-fry.

Pinot gris grapes
Pinot Gris grapes on the vine. Note the light purple colour of the skins: by removing them at the start of fermentation, Pinot Gris can be fermented as a white wine.

Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.

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