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Friday Fishwrap
Great Value Pinot Gris: A Dozen Make The Cut

By Charles Olken

Today’s blind tasting for the April Issue of Connoisseurs’ Guide consisted of sixteen Cabernet Sauvignons. The total value of the wine on the table was well north of $1,000 and two bottles carried price tags of $175. It got me to thinking about my recent encounter with Pinot Gris. Could I find a dozen recommendable Pinot Gris with a total value of less than $175. It turns out that the answer is yes.

Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio when it is grown in Italy, is mild, pleasant grape whose texture is typically round and a touch soft and whose flavors are simple but fruity. No one to my ken has ever ascribed noble characteristics to the grape. Yet, several of the best-selling wines in restaurants in America are made from this too little respected grape. It is time to set the record straighter.

Pinot Gris is popular because it is easy to drink, easy to pronounce, tastes good and costs little. There are producers who manage to get their prices pushed up (think Alsace’s Zind-Humbrecht), but they are few and far between. It may not be a noble grape, and is unlikely to ever reach the majesty of Riesling, with which it more or less competes head to head for sales, but people like it. Its popularity makes all the talk of Pinot Gris’ ordinariness into silliness. Wines that taste good, wines that people like, are not to be sneered at. And when it turns out that there are so many good wines at the affordable end of the price spectrum, well, that it is not to be sneered at either. Rather, it needs to be accepted for what it is—a simple wine that, at its best, is fun to drink.

Perhaps the operative word here is: Enjoy.

CHARLES SMITH The Honorable Washington State 2009 $12.00
Fresh, spry and insistently zesty with a real bent to citrus from beginning to end, this snappy young middle-weight tends ever so slightly to grapefruity bitterness as it goes. It is, however, a great, refreshing palate cleanser and will make a refreshing foil to simple fried fish and oysters alike.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Columbia Valley 2009 $13.00
We find it hard to believe that its modest percent of Viognier can count for all that much, but this highly perfumed, lightly floral offering heads off on a less-than-conventional path even as its background suggestions of green peaches and stones keep it in the varietal realm. It is slightly supple and very well-scrubbed, and it will make a pleasant partner to grilled chicken.

COASTLINE Monterey County 2009 $10.00
Clean, a touch on the mild, minerally side and more Italianate than Alsatian in style, this mid-sized, slightly rounded version of the grape has a modest yet unmistakable layer of fruitiness at its heart and, if somewhat understated, is more than fairly priced.

CONCANNON Selected Vineyards Central Coast 2009 10.00
Leaning to sweetness and vaguely reminiscent of peaches, this very simple wine claims success by dint of its balance rather than any compelling character or depth. It needs a good chill, and it will not grow with aging but it is tasty enough stuff that is easy to take at the price.

CYCLES GLADIATOR California 2009 $11.00
Clean, quaffable and showing a modicum of peachy fruit, this simple, but well-balanced effort is smooth on the palate without being sloppy, and its intimations of sweetness are balanced by just the right touch of acid. It shows little in the way of richness or depth, but it is an eminently useful pre-prandial gulper.

FETZER California 2009 $9.00
If no more than quietly teasing with touches of peach-like fruit, this bottling is bright and alive and crisply balanced. It is more a palate refresher than a study in defined varietal character, but it will get the job done in settings where a light and lively white wine is needed. And, it does so at a very fair price.

FOREST GLEN Tehachapi Clone California 2009 $9.00
Fruit rather than sugar does the talking here, but the wine is reasonably fixed on varietal peaches. It is medium-bodied and does not thin out on the palate as happens with too many of its inexpensive cousins, and, if a long way from delivering true complexity, it is clean, slightly juicy and very easy to drink.

GEYSER PEAK California 2009 $12.00
A little withdrawn and a bit tight in feel it may be, but this wine is appropriately keyed on minerals, citrus, and green peaches, and it maintains a nice sense of fruit all the way through. On the palate, it begins with a nice bit of roundness then firms up and hangs on fairly well at the finish. We would not pour it as a foil to particularly flavorful foods, but it will wash down simple seafoods and milder poultry dishes with ease.

GNARLY HEAD California 2009 $11.00
There may be nothing at all complex or particularly rich about this simple white wine, and distinctive varietal character is not to be found, but it is clean, rounded and balanced, and it will certainly do the trick as an affordable partner to a variety of lighter seafoods.

J WINE COMPANY California 2009 $15.00
Hints of blossoms and peaches reach out from the light-medium volume aromas of this fairly full-bodied, very finely balanced look at Pinot Gris. Its early juice on the palate is set against a backdrop of stones and firming acidity, and if not a pure quaff, its light and lengthy flavors call for service with dishes like sole amandine or poached chicken napped with a tangy beurre blanc.

LOREDONA Monterey 2009 $11.00
If a little different from the rest, perhaps because of its unusual blend, this value-packed bottling is mildly suggestive of banana with a hint of peach and a slight flirtation with minerality. Seemingly sweet yet loaded with balancing acids, it is not ever going to be called "a classic". Yet, for those who do not mind paying $11 for an easy-drinking wine, it will turn out to be just the ticket when the gang comes to call.

THREE PEARS California 2009 $10.00
There is nothing remotely complex to be found in this very direct wine, but then that is something of which Pinot Grigio is rarely accused. It hits the mark as far as freshness and vitality are concerned, and it musters a smattering of clean, white peach fruitiness as it goes. A twist of last-minute citric bitterness does make an appearance, but its sins are minor and should surely go unnoticed when it is paired up with foods like Petrale sole.


Pinot Gris
by Christian Miller
Posted on:3/4/2011 4:55:22 PM

No Oregon Pinot Gris? A tasting of older whites at the Oregon Wine Symposium showed the '03, '04, and 05' King Estate PGs holding up remarkably well and even showing some development in the bottle.

King Estate
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/4/2011 5:43:56 PM

They make very good Pinot Gris, and they know it as well they should.

Their wines do not make the cut for this article on price, not on quality. If we were talking about highest quality Pinot Gris, we would be in another price bracket.

These are examples of the Good Values that Connoisseurs' Guide uncovers for its readers.

Pinot Gris
by Ed King
Posted on:3/18/2011 10:19:41 PM

We appreciate the discussion- we really think the Pinot gris wines deserve discussion. "Noble" is in the eye of the beholder, possibly. But wines that people like and enjoy- a part of their lives every day- that's our kind of wine. We do think you should know that pricing on King Estate- and "Acrobat"- by King Estate- are more affordable than you think.

Like what you drink- drink what you like- good rule- Ed King, CEO King Estate

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