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July 7, 2013

GRAPE SENSE: The difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris

TERRE HAUTE — There are so many great summer options for patio or porch wine it’s foolish to concentrate on just one. Pinot Gris deserves strong consideration after several mentions of dry Rosé.

The white wine market is flooded with Pinot Grigio so what’s the difference in Pinot Gris? That’s a trick question because both wines are made from the same grape. It’s really a matter of style.

Pinot Grigio, which is often flabby and uninteresting, is usually light-bodied with stone fruit and floral hints on the nose. Italians tend to make the best Pinot Grigio but even under the Italian flag the quality wavers. It is Italy’s most popular white wine.

Pinot Gris usually has a richer body, nicer texture, and wonderful acidity. The grape which makes both wines originates from the Burgundian Pinot family. Pinot Gris is widely grown in France’s Alsace region and is also the dominant white grape in Oregon.

The white Pinot has a strong resemblance to the Pinot Noir grape genetically. The similarity comes when tasting several different wines. The white Pinot grape can make crappy to great wine depending on the style, growing season, and terroir.

Despite Italy, France, and Oregon’s dominance in the market, the grape is grown worldwide. For example in Germany it’s known as Grauklevner, Greece — Monemvasia, Croatia — Sivi Pinot, and so on. Even in France, outside Alsace, the grape has five different names.

Enough history, what will wine drinkers find in the glass? The wines tend to have aromas and the taste of pear, melon, apple, lemon and minerality. Shell fish, Quiche, and lighter foods pair well with the less acidic versions while a really crisp Pinot Gris works with chicken, seafood, or any white meat. Don’t overlook Pinot Gris with a pork chop!

The versatile wine is battling Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. for second place behind Chardonnay in total sales. Great bottles of Pinot Gris can be found for under $20. It’s meant to be consumed young while it’s fresh and fruity.

Howard’s Picks:

• David Hill 2011 Estate Pinot Gris, SRP $18, has bright acidity with aromas of stone fruit and a long, beautiful finish. The best Gris I’ve tasted this year.

• Lange Estate 2011 Pinot Gris, SRP $17, is one of Oregon’s oldest Pinot Gris producers. There fruity version gives off hints of peach, mango and a little lemon lime. 90 points form Wine Enthusiast.

• Ponzi Vineyards 2012 Pinot Gris, SRP 17, is a little different than the previous two with a hint of pineapple and lime. It has nice acidity with a bit of a spicy finish.

• Left Food Charley 2011 Pinot Gris, SRP $18, from Michigan holds its own against Oregon’s best. I tasted this wine three years ago and loved the Gris and the winery’s other whites.

• Oliver Winery does two different white Pinot Grigio wines. The entry level is a light-bodied white sure to please new wine drinkers for $12.50. Indiana’s Oliver also has a very limited supply of its first Creekbend Vineyard Pinot Grigio for $28.

• Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve, $20, is one of the very best French names.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every other week for 22 Midwestern newspapers. Write him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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