Reconsidering Pinot Gris

Why you should give it another shot


Eventually, someone will ask. What's the wine that got you into wine? Then come the phenomenal answers. Ancient Brunellos discovered on semesters abroad and Burgundies shared with lovers who don't speak the language. You know, mind-blowing wines, the ones built like time machines and man, what luck to meet them right there at the top of the road. I hear these stories and I almost never have the heart to say my own gateway bottle was an Oregon Pinot Gris, bought for $10 and served in paper cups.

Prior to this moment, I'd had "wine" the way I'd had "beer," which is to say selected by price and color at a grocery store. Now, though, I needed a bottle to impress someone I supposed knew a thing or two about the stuff, so I traded up from the Safeway to the Woodstock Wine & Deli, on account of the word being right there on the sign. I explained about my audience (probably sophisticated) and my budget (definitely miniscule) and in exchange I was handed a bottle of O'Reilly's Pinot Gris. He mentioned lime. It had a dog on the label. I took it in good faith.

Two days later, I poured it, nervously, at what I recognize today was my first real gathering of grown-ups. An incredible thing happened: everyone enjoyed it. We didn't ignore it; we didn't spend the night talking about it. We smiled over it and made note of it and commented as we drained the bottle. It wasn't astounding, but it was lovely, and that was more than I'd ever known alcohol to be. As the weeks went on, I thought about it and bought it again and wondered what might be beyond lovely. In the decade since, I've found out, but I've recently made my way back to the grape that got this all started.

Pinot Gris is better known around these parts as Pinot Grigio, which is better known to plenty of people as "what my ________ (mother, sister-in-law, grandfather who adds seltzer to his wine) drinks." Much of the mass-produced Italian stuff is light-weight and super-bland, a white and nothing more, that being, often, the secret to its traction. It's inoffensive and vaguely boozey. Unfortunately, encounters with insipid versions, as with Chardonnay and Riesling, often cause people looking for better flavors and better stories to move along and never look back. I did the same, even after it did me the favor of showing me the way. I've returned to say that if you've also wandered off, come in. There's plenty here to make the case.

Even though it's been made in Oregon since the 1960s, the Pinot Gris here is still far from being monolithic. Any given bottle may make a completely different argument as to the best expression of the grape in this region. The lack of consistent, recognizable characteristics may be one thing keeping it from Pinot Grigio's status as a popular house white in the U.S. For my purposes, that's a great thing, as it makes the exploration that much more rewarding. Veer left, and you'll find more body and Alsatian-style spice; veer right, and you'll get residual sugar or the tropics, cut with cream. Even the divergent paths, however, still lead to a wine that can unite people new to this world with those who make their lives here. May there be no lovelier task.

Five Oregonians to Try:

Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2010
Ponzi Pinot Gris 2010
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009
Adelsheim Pinot Gris 2010
A to Z Pinot Gris 2009

Photo courtesy wine me up via Flickr/CC

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: ocozzie
    127922 5

    Oregon's Apolloni Vineyards Pinot Grigio is my favorite. Even though the region is more noted for its Pinot Noirs, it has many excellent Pinot Grigios and Pinot Gris, as the article points out.

    Apr 27, 2012 at 2:56 PM

  • I'm new to this blog. I do have a question for you. Why canadian wine is not mentioned in any of your emails, I'm given to understand that they have some very good wine . Robert

    Apr 27, 2012 at 2:56 PM

  • The first Pinot Gris that we tried was a 2010 by Viridian - and we can't stop talking about it. Crisp and light and simply delicious. Our understanding is that, yes, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape but are slightly different methods of production. Can anybody confirm that? We know we've never had an Italian Pinot Grigio that we've liked as much as the Pinot Gris out of Oregon. Great article!

    Apr 27, 2012 at 3:09 PM

  • Snooth User: sweetsour
    1073031 7

    Another great Pinot Gris from Oregon is the Deer Creek Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris! Smooth as honey! Definitely a brand to watch, truly authentic handcrafted artisan wines. My understanding is that the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio is the where the root stock is original from. Gris from France and Grigio from Italy.

    Apr 27, 2012 at 3:27 PM

  • Snooth User: cseda
    Hand of Snooth
    795543 3

    What a fun piece -- love the writing - on a grape variety I love. Have a smile on my face now.

    Apr 27, 2012 at 4:53 PM

  • Snooth User: mrooney16
    1025588 3

    I am very surprised you didn't mention Jules Taylor Pinot Gris from New Zealand.

    Apr 27, 2012 at 5:28 PM

  • Snooth User: pantheraz
    1033487 1

    King's Estate too

    Apr 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM

  • Snooth User: kenj629
    369819 79

    I have always enjoyed the Pinot Grigio from Stuart's Big Fire.....around $17 and Elk Cove from Oregon too.

    Apr 27, 2012 at 6:56 PM

  • Snooth User: lavaman
    131593 58

    My understanding is that Pinot Grigio is created more in the Italian style and Pinot Gris is more in the Alsatian style. Pinot Grigio is more California in style and Pinot Gris is more Oregon in style, different micro-climates, same grape and rootstock. I love both styles, only depends on the food, situation, and dinner guest!

    Apr 27, 2012 at 7:26 PM

  • Snooth User: sulaxmann
    215094 1

    Carly, you missed a good one by not including Sweet Cheeks, Crow, OR, right outside Eugene. Especially their reserve is great. It is not widely distributed, but it is worth the trip and the views are amazing!

    Apr 27, 2012 at 7:40 PM

  • you are missing King'\s Estate

    Apr 27, 2012 at 9:50 PM

  • The late David Lett brought the first cuttings of Pinot gris into, not only Oregon, but the entire US in the late 60’s. At his memorial service, his son and successor Jason, told us all to take sticks from a basket at the door as we left. I planted these and each spring as these cuttings begin to leaf out, I have a wonderful memory of David’s vision when he brought Pinot gris from Alsace to his Eyrie Vineyard near Dundee, OR. I can think of no better memorial to a good man than this…

    Apr 28, 2012 at 12:45 AM

  • @bobcat1292. It'll happen eventually. However, Canada's industry is very small in the global scheme of things. They are doing some great things in the Niagara peninsula ans Okanagan Valley, so I suspect those wines will show up eventually. I've had a few icewines from the Niagara region (Vidal, Cab Franc) and they were really fine wines.

    Apr 28, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    With a reported 2,460 acres of Pinot Gris in current production, Oregon is poised to gain greater acceptance for this #2 varietal in the state. The above blog mentions several smaller producers who are currently participating in a campaign to not only promote Oregon Pinot Gris in general, but also further define what sets Oregon Pinot Gris apart.

    Apr 28, 2012 at 2:01 PM

  • Snooth User: smooch42
    769932 16

    My understanding is that pinot gris and pinot grigio are the same grape. They reflect a different style of wine with grigio being lighter as its harvested earlier and gris being richer due to its later harvest.

    Apr 29, 2012 at 12:36 AM

  • You may want to add Alexana and Four Graces to your must try Pinot Gris list.

    May 01, 2012 at 1:56 PM

  • I don't have too much experience with Pinot Gris because in this side of the world, only a few winerys produce it, but as you mentioned, they call them Pinot Grigio, and in that matter the one I most like is from Viniterra´s winery, in my impresion they make an excelent wine, I have also tried Pinot Gris made in Uruguay, and I can asure that they are fine wines, I also know that in Chile they make these type of wines, but I didn´t have the oportunity to tried them yet.
    I have also tried a "Pinot fume" made in Argentina, that is a Pinot Grigio o Gris that had rest some months on barrels, wining a smoked flavour, it was interesting, specially if you want to pair it with an especific meal, its very tastety.
    I had wrote in my web page some time ago about the specifications of these wines and their pairing cuality, unfortunately this type of wine is not popular in these moment in my country, however that is a very fine and elegant type of wine.

    May 02, 2012 at 7:55 PM

  • Snooth User: sipnsavor
    1074309 1

    I love the Wine By Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon. Delicious!

    May 04, 2012 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: dwbarry412
    1057979 117

    Too bad so many restaurants do not recognize the quality and value in Oregon Pinot Gris. I can hardly ever find one in New Orleans restaurants - even the ones with extensive wine lists. And what a great wine to go with Louisiana seafood dishes!

    May 06, 2012 at 12:13 PM

  • Snooth User: aptasia
    707071 1

    Cline winery in Sonoma makes a very nice Pinot Gris

    May 10, 2012 at 12:53 AM

  • Snooth User: SM
    1097030 218

    Last April while in Hungary I got to taste a Szürkebarát (that's what they call Pinot Gris there) it was from the Balaton Lake. I think it was Balatonfelvidek, though it could have been Badacsony. Anyways it was a wonderful expression of the variety, it had floral notes on the nose and a rich bouquet, with quite a bit of minerality.All in all it was crisp and had a nice fragrance. This was my first time to try Pinot Gris and I was quite impressed.

    I've also had a Santa Marghertia Pinot Grigio from Alto-Adige/Trentino in the Valdadige D.O.C. it was crisp, bone dry and quite well balanced I thought.

    Both of these were good Pinot Gris, just different interpretations of the grape variety.

    I would recommend anyone to try Lake Balaton Szürkebarát as the terroir there is incredible and it is something very different from Alsatian Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigo.


    Jun 08, 2012 at 11:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Jo Diaz
    135355 31

    The Oregon Pinot Gris Website that Susanne-Carlberg mentions is found at (She's a member, as well as Apolloni Vineyards, mentioned above. King Estate is coming on board later this year, when membership opens up again, according to winemaker Jeff Kandarian... and others.)

    Aug 20, 2012 at 3:34 PM

  • Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011 - Bodega Cuarto Dominio. Mendoza very very very good.

    Aug 21, 2012 at 5:40 PM

  • Great Article!

    Aug 28, 2012 at 4:16 PM

  • good one

    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:43 AM

  • good

    Aug 30, 2013 at 2:43 AM

  • Snooth User: EmmaJansen
    1339600 34

    that's nice

    Sep 07, 2013 at 1:04 AM

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