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The Many Shades of Grey – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio: How to spot a marvel from a monster

Pinot Grigio; aka ‘the Grey Pinot,’ has many faces. Curiously coloured with a myriad of shades, this little French grape adopted by Italy holds surprising potential. Originally a mutation, it has its beginnings in myth for this grape is both a Chimaera and a Chameleon capable of producing a variety of different styles of wine. Discovering the Pinot you prefer can be a minefield – here’s how to spot a marvel from a monster . . .

The Chimaera, a creature of many parts
The Chimaera, a creature of many parts

The Chimaera

Pinot Grigio is the same grape as the French grape Pinot Gris. It’s thought to have originated in Burgundy and it is a naturally occurring chimaera; a genetic mutation of the red grape Pinot Noir that occurred centuries ago. (The genetic term is derived from the Chimaera of Greek mythology, a fire breathing monster that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.)

Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour
Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour

Pinot Gris must have come as quite a shock to those ancient wine makers. The leaves of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are so similar that you can’t tell the difference between the two grape vines . . . until the bunches of grapes begin to ripen and take on colour. Unlike the dark purple of Pinot Noir, the grapes of Pinot Gris are bathed in grey.

The Chameleon

Although Pinot Gris takes the name ‘Gris’ thanks to the soft grey tone of its grapes; like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour variations. It’s gentle grey tones can range from dusty violet hues to soft bronzed tones of pink.

Dusky violet Pinot Gris
Dusky violet Pinot Gris

It also has a bewildering variety of regional names in France. It was known as Pinot Beurot in the Middle Ages; a reference to the grape’s colour being similar to that of the homespun habits worn by the Cistercian monks. You’ll also find this grape called Gris Cordelier after the Franciscan monks known as Cordeliers. The monks were responsible for pioneering the spread of Pinot Gris beyond the borders of France in the 1300s.

Outside France it’s known as Pinot Grigio (Grey Pinot) in Italy, Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) in Germany and Szurkebarat (Grey Monk) in Hungary.

Marvel or Monster?

Bronzed pink Pinot Gris
Bronzed pink Pinot Gris

It’s not surprising that Pinot Gris is known both as a marvel and a monster. It’s Italian namesake, Pinot Grigio, has enjoyed meteoric success; sales have rocketed and over half of the UK’s wine drinkers are said to quaff it. The problem with new found fame is that a lot of Italian Pinot Grigio has become mass produced and is lacking the delicate, mild, citrus crispness that endeared it to British wine lovers in the first place.

Bad Pinot Grigio can be insipid and bland.

However this grape’s true merit is the different styles of wine that it is capable of producing.

Wine made from Pinot Gris
Wine made from Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not only multifaceted but in the right hands its its multidimensional. It can produce a whole array of white wines from bone dry and light bodied right through to full bodied and deliriously sweet.

Low in acidity and high in sugars, Pinot Gris flourishes in cool climates. Germany and Alsace (northern France) produce both semi sweet (Moelleux) and sweet, late harvest (Vendages Tardives) Pinot Gris with spicy, nectar-like, intense flavours.

Generally French Pinot Gris tends to be more complex and more full bodied than Italian Pinot Grigio. Flavours tend to be deeper too – typically of pear, stone fruit and sweet spices.

In the Loire, Pinot Gris is used to produce Malvoisie Coteaux d’Ancenis, a subtly sweet fruity and floral style. There is one exception in the region – Christophe Rethore makes a dry Pinot Gris with only 2.5 grams of residual sugar. The result is a startlingly good dry Pinot Gris that I highly recommend.

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014 £6.99

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire
Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire

Domaine Rethore Davy’s Pinot Gris is grown on steep south facing slopes (10% gradient) which are divided between quartz and schist. These soils were specifically chosen to bring out the best characteristics of this expressive grape variety. Here, on the Mauges plateau, crossed by the valleys of the River Evre, the Pinot Gris makes a striking wine. Le Chapitre combines all the refreshing qualities of Pinot Gris in perfect harmony. The grapes are harvested in September when the grapes are nearly over ripe but before Noble Rot sets in. At this pivotal point, Domaine Rethore Davy captures the lush flavour of Pinot Gris with its twinkling acidity to produce its award winning wine.

Tasting Notes:

Soft, smoky Pinot Gris from the Loire Valley. Crisp, fresh and mouth watering. Gently spiced flavours of ripe pear, white peach and lychee with a touch of lemon and ginger. Pleasantly intense aromas and very nicely balanced with floral overtones. Generous with a lingering freshness.

100% Pinot Gris. 12.5% abv. 75cl.

Mists on the Mauges
Mists on the Mauges

Food & Wine Pairing:

Pinot Gris is the perfect wine to sit and relax with on its own but Le Chapitre also pairs well with food. It’s lovely with seafood such as crab spring rolls or chilli prawns, smoked salmon or gravlax, squid or grilled fish – try it with stuffed sardines. Le Chapitre is good with chicken or turkey, pulled pork, salamis, ham and pates, salads, soups and lightly spiced Asian cuisine.

Enjoy!

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