Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! When the sun is out, the grill is fired up, the deck is all prepped for lounging and you’ve got friends over for a visit, what kind of wine do you reach for? I know many wine drinkers that will go for intense red wines like Cab Sauv or Shiraz every time or maybe a flavorful white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Moscato but one of the more popular less-intense wines has also become a huge success (especially for the Italian wine industry): Pinot Grigio!

Take a look through the Italian section on your next visit to the liquor store and you’ll find a huge range of Pinot Grigio to choose from. Even though Italy produces a staggering variety of white wines, the planting and exportation of Pinot Grigio has exploded in the last 20 to 30 years. While the number of bottles sold tells a story of success, the grape varietal itself is still often critically panned. Why is this?

Pinot Grigio is also known as Pinot Gris. The difference in style and quality comes from the area, soil and production methods used to make both wines. Pinot Grigio is known for being crisp, light and neutral yet often bland, while Pinot Gris is considered a “noble” grape in many European regions with its rich and weighty qualities which can often improve with a bit of age. In many wine regions of the world, Pinot Gris is given priority over Pinot Grigio. What this means is that the high-quality production methods and soils are saved for the better wines (Pinot Gris) while Pinot Grigio can be cheaply made and quickly bottled for sale. The difference can be tasted immediately when sampled side-by-side.

Pinot Grigio is often criticized for its lack of intensity, concentration and complexity but it makes a great wine to share and drink without getting too philosophical or serious. Many Grigios have a simple, one-dimensional flavor profile and for those that are searching for a “really good Pinot Grigio” as one customer put it, try regions of Italy like Friuli or the Alto Adige region in Italy. I’ve found that once people get used to the style of Pinot Grigio, they usually get bored with it and want something more flavorful or complex. At this point, I’d recommend giving Pinot Gris a chance.

While I didn’t get the chance to try any Pinot Gris week, you’ll be able to find it from many wine-growing regions like Germany where it is sometimes known as Rulander, Switzerland where the grape is called Malvoisie (often made into a sweet wine), Austria where it used in many high-quality blends, Hungary, which calls the grape Szurkebarat, Oregon, with over 2 times the plantings of Chardonnay (Pinot Gris is their signature white wine), in BC where it was the most-planted white grape in 2008 and Australia where winemakers must be careful not to let the grapes over-ripen and become flabby and unbalanced. Typical regions for easy-drinking Pinot Grigio are California, Canada (both VQA and Product of Canada wines), Veneto (Italy), Argentina and New-Zealand. 

What I was able to taste were two Pinot Grigios and the Co-Op white wine. Surprisingly, the wine which technically, should be the best quality (the VQA-certified Henry of Pelham) falls flat and did not impress me. I enjoyed the two budget-oriented wines more as the Heritage Road had nice concentration and fruity flavors while the Co-Op wine had a tangy, slightly floral edge.

The Henry of Pelham is a great brand and the Niagara Peninsula VQA is a fantastic region but this Pinot Grigio is a great example of why some find the style to be too weak or light (neutral). On the humorous side, my wife enjoyed the Henry of Pelham as it was so light and crisp that it was easy for her to enjoy. It goes to show that there is a wine-preference for everyone and after a few sips I could appreciate the Grigio from Ontario for its mild character but I would choose a high-intensity Sauvignon Blanc or a more-interesting Pinot Gris for myself any day. Here are my wine picks of the week!         

Henry of Pelham Pinot Grigio 2021: (VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario). Dry white, pale lemon color. The low-intensity nose carries citrus zest, lemon peel and a vegetal, green scent similar to fresh garden peas. To the taste, the wine is light in body with low-intensity flavors of faint, undefined citrus (mostly lemon) with an overriding mineral rock bitterness. The fruit flavor lacks concentration or definition and as a result, the flavors found in this wine taste flat and fade quickly. Medium-minus acidity with a watery character. This Pinot is too neutral for my tastes but those that enjoy a mild wine may find some enjoyment. Since the concentration is low and there is no complexity with a quick finish, the wine drops a few points. This is recommended as a sipper on a hot day. Pairing with foods will be tough as most foods will overtake the flavors of the wine. Average! $19, 12.5% ABV

Heritage Road Moonstone Pinot Grigio 2021: (South Eastern Australia). Off-dry white, pale lemon color with a tint of green. The nose is crisp and clean with fruity and simple scents of green apple/pear and lemon-drop candies. On the palate, the flavors of fresh pears, green grapes and apples pop with medium acidity. The intensity is satisfying and the concentration of flavors is medium-plus with a medium-minus body. This wine is fruity but never tastes too sweet and the finish is quick but leaves an enjoyable tingling sensation which makes the mouth water. An underlying bitterness reminds me of biting into grape skins with sweet fruit underneath. The wine is delicious with salty snacks and that touch of sweetness creates an excellent contrast of flavors. Pair with pecorino cheese, chips, rice crackers, grilled chicken or chicken alfredo. The concentration of flavors and elevated intensity land this Australian Pinot a decent score. Good! $15, 11.5% ABV

Co-Op Private Collection White: (Product of Argentina). Dry to off-dry white, pale lemon color. The medium intensity nose has an interesting blend of tropical fruit, stone fruit and floral tones. On the palate, pineapple, melon, peach and pear blend together for a fruity mid-palate, rounded out by notes of floral bitterness. The medium acidity in the wine creates some balance and the medium body gives the wine a bit of substance. Pineapple, melon and pear all sit nicely on the tongue with a swirl of floral character on the medium-length finish. The intensity of fruit on the mid-palate is mild overall, but the wine does have a tangy character; this combination makes the wine easy and gentle to sip on but it still delivers some decent flavor. Pair with simple foods like grilled chicken or the original Boursin creamy cheese on crackers. Good! $12, 11% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!