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Varietal Overview: Pinot Grigio
History and Cultivation
This zesty white wine is among the top sellers for white varietals in the United States today, but traces its roots to the Burgundy region of central-eastern France. One of the older varietals, Pinot Grigio was likely born from the Medieval pale red-berry Fromenteau wine popular in France.
In the 1300s, Pinot Grigio, then called simply Pinot Gris, was introduced into Switzerland, which was the beginning of the spread of popularity throughout Europe that would eventually continue overseas. From here it spread to Italy, where it became known by its popular name today, Pinot Grigio. Italy took a major liking to this wine, and it quickly became the most popular white varietal in the country. The Italian’s affinity for Pinot Grigio is thought to be the catalyst that brought this wine into mass popularity worldwide. During this time, Pinot Grigio also became a favorite with the Emperor Charles IV. Charles loved the wine so much, in fact, that he ordered vine cuttings to be taken from the Burgundy plants and brought over to Hungary by Cistercian monks to be planted on new soil.
Today, Pinot Grigio vines span nearly 15,000 hectares worldwide in over 20 different countries. Roughly 1/3 of these 15,000 hectares are in Germany. Surprisingly, although it originated in Burgundy, there is very little of this varietal still grown in that region.
Pinot Grigio grapes differ from many other white varietals in that they do not have a light skin. In fact, these grapes are of grayish-blue color, which is a consequence of the fruit’s genetic relatedness to the ever popular Pinot Noir, of which Pinot Grigio is thought to be a mutant offshoot. Hence, the root “gris”, which is French for grey. These grapes have a relatively soft flesh and marked acidity which translates over to the end product. This acidity is best retained in an early harvest, where sugar levels are lower. The fruit tends to grow in small, cone-shaped clusters, which has been incorporated into the name of the varietal, pinot, meaning pine or pinecone in Italian.
Tasting Profile and Pairings
The Flavor profile of a nice Pinot Grigio can be compared to the freshness of an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a hot, sunny day; crisp and refreshing. In general, Pinot Grigio is characterized by its light, delicate nature, with vibrant citrus fruit which pairs well with many spring and summer dishes.
A Pinot Gris from the Alsace region of France, the predominating Old World growing region of this varietal, will be markedly different from the Pinot Grigio grown in Northwestern Italy. Most notably, French Pinot Gris will have significantly more richness, depth of flavor, spice, and earthiness. These wines tend to be dominated by tropical fruit and a slight sweetness as compared to their Italian counterparts. The cool, dry climate of the Alsace-Lorraine region allows the fruit to remain on the vines well into autumn, leading to a generally bolder Pinot Gris than that found in other regions of the world. In contrast, Italian Pinot Grigio will be lighter, crisper, and more delicate on the palate. New World American Pinot Grigio will be much fruitier and slightly sweeter as well. However, this sweetness is nowhere near that of a sweeter Chardonnay.
Typically speaking, winemakers tend to avoid production of Pinot Grigio that is heavily oaked in order to preserve these characteristic bright flavors. This type of production is usually steel-based and limits the chemical interaction that leads to butteriness such as that in an oaked Chardonnay.
Due to its light and acidic nature, one must be careful to prevent overpowering this wine with certain dishes. In general, Pinot Grigio is typically thought of as a spring or summer wine, but may also be paired with lighter dishes served year-round. A light Italian Pinot Grigio will pair well with crisp antipasti such as fresh spring greens, lightly cooked or raw seafood, or ceviche. For a slightly bolder flavor, a French Pinot Gris could be paired with delicate cream sauces, lightly fried fish, or even something as simple as fried fish and chips. When pairing with fish, however, be sure to choose a lighter meat with less of an intense flavor such as tilapia or halibut. Avoid dark, red meats and richer flavors.
Try This Recipe with a Medium-Full Bodied Pinot Gris!
Ginger Panko Crusted Salmon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, very finely chopped
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (from a 1 1/2-inch piece)
1/2 cup panko
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive o
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Add the shallot, garlic and 1 tablespoon of the minced ginger and cook over moderate heat until the shallot is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the panko and stir to coat evenly with the butter. Cook, stirring frequently, until the panko is lightly
toasted, about 3 minutes. Season the topping lightly with salt and black pepper. In a shallow bowl, whisk the lime juice with the mustard. Add the salmon fillets and turn to coat. Set the salmon on a parchment paper-llined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Pack the panko mixture on top of each salmon fillet and roast for 12 minutes, or until just cooked through.