Anthony Gismondi on Wine
Monday, February 29 2016

Grapes : Pinot Gris

By: Treve Ring
You say Gris, I say Grigio

If any grape has the right to an identity crisis, it’s Pinot Gris.

This white wine grape is actually a mutation clone of the black Pinot Noir grape. The grape’s skin colour varies wildly, sometimes even within the same bunch. Gris, French for grey, references the typical greyish-blue fruit, though the grape can also range from a tanned pink to plummy black and even very pale rose. The wines produced from Pinot Gris also vary in hue, from palest yellow to deep golden to blushing salmon, and it is one of the more popular grapes for the currently trending orange wine. Rainbow of disguises aside, Pinot Gris also goes by its Italian clone, Pinot Grigio. In sweepingly broad strokes, wines made in the fresh, crisp and unoaked style of Veneto adopt Grigio, while those in a richer, riper version go by Gris, though of course these are generalizations and lines are blurred. Unfortunately, Italian Pinot Grigio has become too popular for its own good, spawning oceans of early-harvested bland, tart and inexpensive white wine capitalizing on the Pinot Grigio wave.

The grape itself, when yields are reasonably low and it reaches full maturity, yields wines with higher alcohol, perfumed aromatics and lower acidity. The fuller body tends to be a bit oily, with rich melon, pear and tropical fruit. The grape’s ancestral home is thought to be in Burgundy, though the mutation from Pinot Noir was also happening in southwest Germany around the same time in the late 13th century. Legend has it that the grape was reportedly a favourite of Emperor Charles IV, who brought cuttings to Hungary for Cistercian monks to cultivate in 1375, which is why the grape there is known as Szürkebarát, meaning "grey monk." Pinot Gris has many other aliases around Europe, principally Fromenteau, Grauburgunder, Malvoisie, Pinot Beurot and Ruländer.

BC makes some outstanding Pinot Gris, in a wide range of styles. Here are some of our favourite local Gris / Grigio tasted at GOW over the past 12 months.

90. Haywire Pinot Gris Switchback Vineyard Raised in Concrete 2013, Summerland. $24.90
Flint, cream, subtle white florals and herbal wildflowers open this layered gris. The medium bodied palate carries white pepper, salted wild herbs, pear and pear skin, fennel, cracked stone and a beauty wave of honeysuckle along savoury, concrete texture. Sea salt lingers on the finish. This wine transcends the grape; firm presence and quiet confidence in this complex white. Revisited December 2015 and continue to be impressed. Can't wait to try again next year. TR

90. Nichol Vineyard Pinot Gris 2014, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley. $22.00
A striking salmon hue, this Naramata Village pinot gris spent 36 hours resting on the skins in open top fermenters before being pressed off to ferment in large format, open-top fermenters and neutral French barriques. Subtle orchard fruit, stone and delicate orange aromas carry through to the medium bodied, textured palate. Light, nimble acidity brightens a sheen of creamy lees, gentle marmalade, stone and pear. Grapefruit and apricot fuzz lingers on the lengthy finish. Depth and finesse. TR

90. Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Okanagan Valley. $28.00
The Reserve tier in Blue Mountain's portfolio marks wines of serious distinction, rightfully so. Two clones of twenty-five year old vines were fermented and aged in a 60/40 blend of stainless steel and French oak, yielding complex notes of ripe pear, pastry and fine spices. The fuller body nimbly carries the spiced pear, pastry, and toasted cashew, citrus and fragrant apples across a creamy, lees-lined palate. Stony, smoky minerality, whispering clove and lingering citrus blossoms close out the lingering finish. Drinking well now (especially alongside game hen or sablefish), this will reward with two to four years in the cellar. TR 

90. Orofino Pinot Gris 2014, Similkameen Valley. $20.00
Sourced from two Similkameen vineyards, this bright pinot gris was partially fermented in a locally-produced concrete tank, with the majority (60 percent) sent to stainless and a splash (12 percent) going to old French oak barrels. The result is a layered, rewarding, complete pinot gris, one with creamy concrete cushioning, wild herbs, fennel, fine spice and a vein of bright, pure orchard fruit. TR

90. La Stella Vivace Pinot Grigio 2014, Okanagan Valley. $25.00
Perhaps it was the warm 2014 summer, or the lower than average yield, but this vintage of Vivace, with its gently concentrated, pure-fruited, finessed form, especially impresses. Wild desert herbs, orchard pear, fine lees and lemon zest roll across the textured palate, brightened by crisp green apple tartness and bitter white grapefruit pith. Fragrant melon, subtle meadow blossoms and stones linger on the finish. Lively, dry and elegant, this is a grown up grigio. TR

89. CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2013, Kelowna, Okanagan Valley. $18.00
From their east Kelowna Upper CedarCreek Vineyard, this later-pick gris sees partial (15 percent) French oak ferment, adding extra texture to this vibrant, medium-bodied white. Eight grams of residual sugar are carried light as air across the expansive palate, along with orange zest, pear, almond, honeysuckle and white peach. Bright tangerine acidity finishes with sizzled sage. Very impressive - enjoy on its own, or with poultry, halibut or mussels. TR

89. Haywire Switchback Wild Ferment Organic Vineyard 2014, Summerland, Okanagan Valley. $23.00
"Natural" winemaking makes up a small percentage of winemaking in the province, but it is mighty, and it is meaningful. This wine is an apt example: organically farmed, wild yeast, no additives (including sulphur). The pinot gris fermented and rested in an amphora on the skins for eight months before being pressed off and then left for two more months prior to bottling. The result is as pure an expression of site, and grape, that one could hope for: a peach hued, grippy white, savoury with wild herbs, sea salts, gentle pear and subtle wild redcurrant notes. Finish is lingering with bitter pear skin and savoury salts. This isn't your typical pinot gris (thankfully) but it is interesting and a welcome movement in winemaking / wine drinking for an adventurous palate. Serve at cellar temperature (not fully chilled). TR

89. Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2013, Oliver, Okanagan Valley. $19.00
Pear and ripe pink grapefruit on the nose, with heady perfume and tropical spiced overtones. The medium and creamy palate shows more ripe pear, along with mild honey, tropical blossoms and stony spice. The stainless steel ferment and aging preserve the fresh orchard fruit, while two months of lees stirring amps up the creaminess. The pinot gris vines are now in their 19th year, and the 2013 vintage is stronger than ever. Pear with grilled pork or halibut. TR

89. Pentâge Winery Pinot Gris 2013, Skaha Bench, Okanagan Valley. $18.00          
Beauty Okanagan pinot gris with all the elements: fruit, herbs, sun ripe and fresh - all in balance. Peach fuzz, lemon blossom aromatics, medium bodied expressive and textured palate of fragrant peach, anise, mandarin, honey, musk melon and pink grapefruit zest. Fine spice through the bitter peach finish. Generous on the palate - pair with fragrant mango dressed curries or peach chicken salad. TR

89. Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2013, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley. $25.00
A delicate peach hue hints to the gris in the glass, an herbal, textured and finely spiced example. Forty percent barrel fermentation and age ups the spicy, stony complexity, a fine foil to the herbal-imbued lemon, pear and pithy notes. Moderate acidity and a subtle honeysuckle closes out the creamy, spicy finish. Youthful still, but will build and continue to deepen with 3-5 years time. Quietly confident, as is the house style. Pour with herb trussed poultry or classic moules frites. TR

89. Nichol Vineyard Two Barrels Pinot Gris 2014, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley. $30.00
Two barrels of pinot gris proved singular enough in 2014 that the winery decided to combine and bottle them separately, bottling it in a distinctive, frosted bottle. Lighter in hue than their classic pinot gris, the palate is brighter, tighter as well. Pear, green apple, subtle tangerine rests on a cushion of fine lees, finishing crisp and shining with fine, lingering spices. Only forty cases made. TR

89. Hillside Pinot Gris Unoaked 2014, Okanagan Valley. $20.00
How much do I like this wine? A lot. It’s such a pleasure to drink a pinot gris for grown-ups. Hillside has made the long journey to terroir-based wines grown only in Naramata (this one comes from just above the village). It has to be rewarding for the entire Hillside team to make a wine like this. So fresh and vibrant with orchard fruits and bits of white peach and melon this is juicy fresh and delicious. Pinot gris can throw a little colour from its copper skin and this one has a beautiful Provençal hue. Grilled chicken or assorted shellfish all work here. Stock up for summer. Bravo. AG

89. Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2014, Okanagan Valley. $19.00
Heady and fragrant pear and orchard fruits, imbued with an alluring herbaceousness and light anise reminiscent of the Okanagan. The creamy, rounded palate carries the same, along with white peaches and cream, white florals and a green apple sharpness on the lifted finish. Pour with mussels or chèvre decked greens. TR

89. 50th Parallel Estate Grown Pinot Gris 2014, Lake Country, Okanagan Valley. $19.00
A pointed nose of lemon oil, eraser and white flowers. The round, ripe palate flows with the same, though with lovely herbal intrigue - peach fuzz, apricot stone and fine ginger spiece. Nice freshness and lick of herbal anise. Would do well with fragrant green curries, pork/chicken kabobs or melon dressed summer salads. TR

89. Moraine Pinot Gris 2014, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley. $21.00
Much like last year this is well-made better than average gris grown on an ancient collapsed moraine known as Anastasia vineyard. The nose is a honeyed/apricot, mineral affair with a stony lemon undercurrent. The palate is clean and flavourful boasting orchard fruits, melons and perfect acidity. It was perfect with fishcakes, but would be fine with fowl too. Good value. AG

89. Haywire Pinot Gris Raised in Concrete 2014, Oliver, Okanagan Valley. $21.90
"It's all about the vessel." This Secrest Mountain Vineyard white label pinot gris stays true to its raised in concrete labelling and the winery's less is more ethos. Herbal meadow grass, subtle fennel, gently creamy lees, cracked stone, savoury salts and tingling citrus flow seamlessly through the lingering finish, revealed with a slightly warmer temperature - utilize cellar temperature here. Because the winery is made up of geeks (like me), they have also released the exact same 2014 white label pinot gris done in stainless steel - allowing geeks like you to decide which vessel you prefer. TR

Written By: TR
Treve Ring
Treve Ring

Treve Ring is a writer, editor, judge, consultant, educator and certified sommelier based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. After completing her Art History degree with Distinction from the University of Victoria and being exposed to the world of wine business at Christie's in London, England, she switched gears, leaving the realm of art for the world of wine.