It's almost pinot gris season in British Columbia.
It won't be long before dozens of wineries release their 2013 versions, most of which were picked, crushed,fermented and bottled, all with the intention to be ready to drink by the time the 2014 local salmon and halibut seasons begin.
It's hard to believe pinot gris is closing in on its 40th birthday, having first appeared inthe Okanagan Valley in 1976. In those days it was George and Trudy Heiss of Winfield-based Gray Monk Estate that championed the cultivar, even naming their winery after the colloquial expression used in Austria and Hungary for the pinot gris grape.
British Columbia's first 50 pinot gris vines came from Alsace in 1976. That same summer Helmut Becker, the director of grape breeding at Germany's Geisenheim Institute, visited the Okanagan Valley and offered George Heiss a selection ofvines from the famed Geisenheim research plots. The rest is history.
Four decades later, Gray Monk continues to make stylish, affordable pinot gris and like the early days, strong demand makes it just as difficult to buy today asit was in the 1980s. Despite the personal success the Heiss family has enjoyed with pinot gris, they suggested the vines be made available to all growers when the experiment ended and pinot gris has spread from one end of the valley too ther and even as far as the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.
Despite a slow start and plenty of competition from chardonnay and a variety of Germangrapes, pinot gris is now the second most planted white grape in the valley.Total production in 2012 reached 2,788 tons, a mere 200 tons less than the perennial leader chardonnay. Among red and white grapes, it is third over-all behind only merlot and chardonnay. That's impressive for a grape that doesn'treceive a lot of love from the media or the trade.
Internationally, pinot gris -- or rather Italian pinot grigio -- has been taking it on the chin for a while, and for good reason. Cheap watery, cardboard-flavored bottlesabound on U.K. and American grocery-store shelves and a good number have foundtheir way to Canadian government stores. There not all thin and taste less butthe chance of finding good ones under $20 are slim. The category is regularly panned by respected writers who routinely suggest you can do better with other European white varieties that deliver a more authentic experience in the glass.
It is one time our inability to dent the export market has spared British Columbia pinot gris producers from being tossed into the same pile. We are making some excellent gris and grigio. Our style tends to be fresher and more flavourful than most Italian versions and it is drier and more food-friendly than products coming out of Oregon or New Zealand. Although most of our wines are unwooded,with little or no malolactic fermentation, we know now a little oak can beuseful, especially when done with a deft hand. Blue Mountain for one is a goodexample.
Reliable names in B.C. include Blue Mountain and Gray Monk and you can add Sperling Vineyards, Red Rooster, Cedar Creek, Spierhead, Intrigue Wines, Mission Hill,Wild Goose, Tinhorn Creek, Blasted Church Vineyards, Ovino, Sandhill, VanWesten Vineyards, 8th Generation, Unsworth Vineyards and Laughing Stock Vineyards.
Grilled salmon is a natural food pairing. I enjoy pinot gris with fresh goat's cheese, but it does just as well with scallops, spot prawns and assorted shellfish. From earthy to fruity and everything in between, it would seem British Columbia pinot gris has a chance to reset the international taste bar if only it could make it past locals who can't seem to get enough of it.
Lindemans Bin 85 Pinot Grigio 2013, South EasternAustralia, Australia
Remarks Best under $12 Floral, light pear, redapple and grapefruit aromas. Fresh, round, juicy, off dry palate withgrapefruit rind, green apple, light lees and lemon flavours. Light, easy style
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Valdadige 2012, Veneto,Italy
Remarks Baked pear, earthy, spicy, lightfloral, lees aromas. Round, fresh, dry, juicy plate with canned grapefruit,pear, lemon and butter flavours. A touch bitter on the finish but solidintensity.
Mission Hill Pinot Gris Reserve 2012, Okanagan Valley,British Columbia, Canada
Remarks Guava, canned grapefruit, lightlees, green apple and spice aromas. Round, full, fatter palate with passionfruit, pink grapefruit, baked green apple and lees flavours. Good intensity ina fuller style but ready to drink now. Try this with halibut and fruit salsa.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2013, Okanagan Valley, BritishColumbia, Canada
Remarks Tinhorn continues to make a juicyfresh easy-sipping style gris in the south Okanagan. Look for grapefruit,floral, spicy, earthy, grassy aromas. The palate is creamy with baked greenapple, honey, light lees, grassy and melon rind flavours. Good intensity, witha touch of bitterness and butter in the finish. Try this with simply seasonedgrilled fish.
Vino Pinot Gris 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington,United States
Remarks Light honey, floral, ripe pear, quince,grapefruit, and nutty aromas. Dry, fresh, juicy palate with lime, grapefruit,nutty, pear skin, earthy, passion fruit flavours. Good balance and intensity. Aversatile food wine.
Ex Nihilo Pinot Gris 2012, Okanagan Valley, BritishColumbia, Canada
Remarks Yeasty/bread dough, grapefruitrind aromas mix with a touch of passion fruit and dried herbs. The attack isround and rich with leesy, earthy, orange, grapefruit rind, apple sauce andapricot pit flavours. Unusual style with an intense lime-rind finish. A richerstyle gris that will work with chicken, pork or veal pasta dishes.