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OPINION | BOTTLE SHOTS: Pinot gris — to be or not to be, that is the question

by Seth Eli Barlow | August 11, 2021 at 1:51 a.m.

A few weeks ago, I did what I now know was a big no-no. I made a (truthful) joke about a lot of the pinot gris out there in the world being, well, bad. And while I stand by the fact that the only thing more common in grocery stores than the delta variant is bottles of bad pinot gris, I'll also admit that it's an opinion that deserves a little nuance. Pinot gris, when grown and made with care, can be one of the world's best white wines.

Pinot gris can be incredibly rich and full-bodied, bursting with heady aromas in the hands of the right winemakers. Unfortunately, far too many grape growers and winemakers know that a $10 bottle that smells like tart lemons and a midlife crisis is enough to satiate most American palates. Though it's another vast generalization, it seems true enough that many of these wines are labeled as pinot grigio, instead of pinot gris, though some fantastic wines prove this maxim wrong.

Initially, the "gris" versus "grigio" name signaled only the country of origin, with the words meaning "gray" in French and Italian, respectively. Recently, however, they've come to indicate style, as producers seek to advertise the wine's style. Unctuous, orchard-scented pinot gris are made in a manner that mimics the wines from the Alsace on the French-German border, while pinot grigio indicates a lighter, crisper version of the same grape in the style of northern Italy.

In Italy, pinot grigio has been an incredible success story, with its acreage doubling from 1990 to 2000 and continuing to grow. Much of this is due to the success of a single wine: Santa Margherita ($27). This marketing juggernaut launched pinot grigio to international beverage superstardom and spawned uncountable imitations. Your mileage with this pinot grigio OG may vary, but it's still a testament to the power of branding and savvy marketing.

Though the explosion of pinot grigio may have landed us in a race to the lowest common flavor denominator, it also inspired a generation of winemakers worldwide to look at the grape with a fresh perspective. These wineries are part of a recent wave of popularity for the grape, with wines that showcase its natural expressiveness. One such pinot gris pioneer is Oregon's The Eyrie Vineyards, the first American winery to plant the grape. Even now, some 50 years later, their pinot gris ($23) are excellent introductions to the heights the grape can reach.

Next week, we'll take an even deeper dive into gris (and the grigos) worth drinking.

As always, you can see what I'm drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to sethebarlowwine@gmail.com.

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