When we hear the word Pinot, we think of the red Pinot. But did you know that the Pinot’s – Noir, Gris and Blanc are genetically identical? It’s complicated I know, but if you were test their DNA, you would find that it’s the same. Pinot gris and pinot blanc are mutations of pinot noir. Like humans, over time our DNA experiences mutations and slight changes. The same goes with grapes. Over time there are changes and mutations that occur. So even though they are genetically identical are these grapes the same? Absolutely not as they all make wines that are dramatically different from one another! They grapes look different, the behave differently in the vineyard and on different soils and they make extremely different wine! So actually it’s not really complicated. When we start to investigate vermentino, pigato and favorito, three genetically identical white grapes of Italy, then let’s talk complicated! But let’s not go there right now. That is for a different post!
Most of us are more than familiar with Pinot Noir, and that fact that is grown almost everywhere in the world, with some places more famous than others. The royal home of Pinot Noir is certainly Burgundy, with cult wines such as DRC (Domaine Romanee-Conti) and La Tache, that are made in such few quantities that those of us who have tasted these wines can count ourselves lucky indeed. If you’ve ever had the privilege of tasting DRC or La Tache, I’d love to hear your experience! I am NOT one of those people! Other cool climate areas like Central Otago in New Zealand, Monterey in the Central Coast USA, the Willamette Valley in Oregon and Canada’s Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are certainly putting themselves on the map with Pinot Noir. Let’s not forget about Champagne either! Pinot Noir plays a major role in the blend of many Champagne houses, and in some instances the solo role.
Burgundy is clearly the leader in Pinot Noir, given the fact that it is the only red grape grown in the Cote de Nuit of the Cote d’Or
The grape Pinot Noir itself, is a thin-skinned grape which would therefore produce lighter, lower tannin, and medium body wine. It’s difficult to grow because the clusters are always very tightly packed making it susceptible to rot and other diseases; also splitting of those thin skins increases the hazard of rot. It typically has fresh flavours of strawberries, raspberries and cherries – essentially, descriptors are firmly in the red fruit camp. As the wine ages, it can develop a bouquet of dust and barnyard; and with the use of oak, create further complexities with age.
To get a sense of Pinot Noir from different countries, here a few examples of good ones to sink your teeth into and try!
The Willamette Valley in Oregon, sits around the same latitude as th Burgundy region of France, along with similar soil structures, makes it an ideal place for growing Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir from Oregon can run the gamut in price from reasonable to premium priced.
Some Pinot Noir to try that won’t put a dent in your pocketbook are:
Jadot Borgogne – FRANCE: this négociant house has property all over Burgundy with wines made from grapes sourced from all over the Cote D’or, to the small grand cru areas. But this little burgundy is classic Pinot with those dusty ashy notes layered underneath the strawberries and cherries.$ 22.99.
Gray Monk Pinot Noir – CANADA: from one of the originals of the Okanagan Valley, the fruit is sourced from some of the best vineyard sites in the Okanagan. Fresh, fruity and quaffable, this is a great bottle to make a foray into Pinot Noir if you’ve never had any before! $23 CAD
Penner Ash Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA: While this Pinot is not at the low end of the scale, it’s certainly not at the high end either. It is made with fruit sourced from some of the more renowned vineyards of the valley along with other quality vineyards to give this wine a signature red cherry, cedar spice with that touch of earthiness. Starts around $42 CAD
Greywacke Pinot Noir- NEW ZEALAND: Winemaker Kevin Judd was using ambient/native yeasts long before it was trendy and as the former winemaker at Cloudy Bay, he started making his own premium, beautifully balanced wines. These are more complex due to the use of new oak (40%) so expect to find more ripe fruit and denser tannins (not that you could get super dense with Pinot!) For those that love a good Cru Beaujolais, the Greywacke Pinot Noir would very much be on par. You can find it on shelves from $42-$52 CAD
Like Pinot Noir, most countries are making pinot gris, with many producers thinking that if they have one, it’s a sure sell. Many don’t realize that Pinot gris is actually a mutation of Pinot Noir. And some also don’t realize that Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are essentially the same thing. Grigio means grey in Italian while gris means grey in French. They both mean a ‘grey’ Pinot, which can also look a bit pinkish or a lighter blue on the vine. Some might argue that grigio and gris are different, which of course they can be depending on how they are vinified.
Italy is of course the leader in pinot grigio with all styles coming from the Tre Venezie, or delle Venezie areas meaning the grapes are sourced from a very broad area. Mountainous pinot grigio, made in Alto Adige are considered to be some of the best given the higher altitudes essentially giving the wines crisp fresh acidity.
Then there is Alsace, an amazing wine region, but largely forgotten. Here, pinot gris is a thing of beauty and meant to be aged. I had the opportunity to attend a vertical tasting of the single vineyard Humbrecht pinot gris and it changed my world. I had no idea pinot gris had such an astounding ability to age! If you’d like to find out more about the ageworthiness of Alsatian pinot gris, you can read about it here. We should all start drinking more Alsatian wines!
Canada too, does an excellent job of Pinot Gris, with many wineries in the Okanagan Valley producing points worthy pinot gris.
Here are some noteworthy pinot grigio/gris to get your hands on!
Dal Cero “Ramato” Pinot Grigio – ITALY: likely one of the best selling ramato style pinot grigio. Ramato means copper as the juice rests on the skin for a short time to give it that orange colour. Aromatic with fresh fruity notes of peach and mango, this is the perfect patio wine. Around $20 CAD
Gray Monk Pinot Gris – CANADA: One of the original wineries in the Okanagan Valley, the pinot gris is consistent year after year with great acidity levels and notes of pear and stone fruits. Around $23 CAD
Zind-Humbrecht – FRANCE: Serious pinot gris for the collector, if you can get your hands on any of these wines from single vineyard sites, do it. You won’t regret it! Their ‘basic’ pinot gris in Canada will run you around $32 a bottle. The Grand Cru Rangen de Thann is the most southerly of vineyards and overlooks the village of Thann. The Clos Saint-Urbain houses the Urbain chapel where processions take place every year. It’s a historical site to be sure where the pinot gris favours the ancient limestone soils. Yeilds are low and whilst the Riesling is picked first, the pinot gris can be subject to botrytis, yielding richer, fuller-bodied wines. The Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann pinot gris would be so worth it, if you can find a bottle, will run you about $150 CAD.
Pinot blanc/bianco is a further mutation moving from grey/blue/pink tinged grapes of pinot gris to a white grape. It can be a subtle wine but it has spread its wings and found homes in both the Alsace region of France and in Northern Italy. Not only some stunning ageing expressions in Alsace but also used in the production of Crémant, the sparkling wines of France made outside of the Champagne region. In Italy, you’ll find wines mostly in the Alto Adige region where they will be fresh, minerally with strong peach and pear aromas and flavours. Again, Canada’s Okanagan valley has embraced this grape and has several great examples throughout the valley to try. In Germany, it’s known as Wiessburgunder, and has a rich round feel in the mouth along with those stone fruits reminiscent of its relative pinot gris.
Trimbach Pinot Blanc- FRANCE: Another big name for Alsace, it’s always well- balanced, dry and perfect for appetizers! You can find it for around $30 CAD
Bender PINOT- GERMANY: Andreas Bender knows a thing or two about wine. He’s been making wine in Germany since he was 13. This original wine combines Grauburgunder (pinot gris) and Weissburgunder(pinot blanc) to make a delightfully full bodied wine full of pears, citrus zest and lemon cream. Of course, with balanced acidity, this is a stunning wine that won’t last long once tasted! Around $23 CAD
Care for a Pinot? Check out the world of Pinot Noir and its mutations! Prost! Cheers!