Oregon has pioneered the gris style, not just in the Northwest but in the entire country. Washington pinot gris is a different style, as it's grown in the desert climate of the Columbia Valley.
PINOT GRIS and pinot grigio (same grape, different styles) are the sort of versatile white wines that can sail easily through the changing seasons. Fine for warm-weather sipping, they also fit well with late autumn/early winter dining, with either a first course or traditional entrees such as ham and turkey.
Oregon has pioneered the gris style, not just in the Northwest but in the entire country. The Oregon versions are most often fruity with luscious pear flesh, a pleasing roundness to the palate and a light touch (if any) with new oak. The cool 2010 and 2011 vintages also brought lower alcohol and lip-smacking acidity.
Washington pinot gris is a different style, as it’s grown in the desert climate of the Columbia Valley. Bright and racy, with vivid but less fleshy fruit, it can show pear along with apple and citrus flavors.
A few domestic wineries label their wine pinot grigio, but like the term shiraz (in place of syrah) it confuses. Pinot grigio belongs to Italy, and it’s not just a matter of language; it’s a style. Good Italian pinot grigios have a lacy delicacy, a driving minerality and a snap to the fruit flavors. Alcohol levels are a point or two lower than here in the U.S., and barrel aging is hardly ever done.
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There is no right or wrong to this. In fact, the three distinct styles show how versatile this grape is.
New Washington state vintages I have recently enjoyed include the Kestrel 2011 Pinot Gris ($13), Gård Vintners 2011 Lawrence Vineyards Pinot Gris ($17) and Wapato Point Cellars 2011 Pinot Grigio ($22). This last carries the Lake Chelan appellation, a relative rarity, and more closely resembles the Oregon style.
From Oregon, excellent choices abound, most priced between $12 and $20. Recommendations (in order by rank and price):
Spindrift Cellars 2011 Pinot Gris ($16). Creamy and leesy, with a complex mix of mineral, fresh herb, citrus rind and pungent botanicals. Give it a good chill and watch it open as it warms.
Adelsheim 2011 Pinot Gris ($19). Bright and spicy, with flavors of melon and pear, this finishes up with a lightly toasty accent.
Redhawk 2011 Pinot Gris ($14). This shines with appealing flavors of fresh-sliced Bosc pears and a pear-like graininess in the mouth. Overall a nicely balanced wine drinking very well right now.
Erath 2011 Pinot Gris ($14). From Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, this widely available wine also brings fresh-cut pear, pear skin and a bit of melon fruit.
Illahe 2011 Estate Pinot Gris ($15). This tart, apple-flavored pinot gris is close to fresh-squeezed cider. The alcohol (12.5 percent) is almost invisible. Just pure, juicy, clean fruit comes through.
And finally, here’s one from Italy: Banfi’s 2011 Le Rime Pinot Grigio ($9). Light, clean and most refreshing.