What’s in a wine? 5 little-known facts about Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is one of the top five most widely purchased wine varietals, and what’s not to love? The crisp minerality and bright citrusy flavors make for a refreshing glass of wine to pair with any number of light dishes. We also love cooking with Pinot Grigio; check out this tasty recipe for Chicken Francaise! But there are some things you might not know about this popular varietal, so we put together five interesting facts to help you appreciate Pinot Grigio even more.

1. White Wine; Red Grape

Pinot_Gris_closeEven if you’ve never had Pinot Grigio, you probably already know it is a white wine. But did you know it is actually a red grape? It’s true! The Pinot Grigio grape is named for it’s blue-gray hue, and yet you’ll probably never see a bottle of red Pinot Grigio. How did that happen? To make white wine, the juice is pressed out of the grapes and the skins are discarded. Usually white (or green) grapes are used, but any type of grape will work. With red wine, black (aka red or purple) grapes are fermented with the skins before extracting the juice. The color isn’t coming from the juice, which is mostly clear, it comes from the skins. So why isn’t Pinot Grigio made as a red wine since it is a red grape? It probably has something to do with tradition, as well as the fact that this varietal just tastes better as a white wine.  The grape also has a very thin skin, so even if you did ferment the skins with the juice, you wouldn’t get the kind of rich color you would see in a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

2. Early Riser

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio matures rather quickly, and so it is usually one of the first varietals we harvest each year. By picking the grapes as early as late August, we can capture that perfect amount of acidity that really helps to bring out the bright fruity flavors we love in our Pinot. An early harvest also means we can get straight to work making wine! It usually takes around six months to make, so that means it is ready by late winter/early spring. By contrast, our Chardonnay harvested in the same season would only be half-way to three-quarters done, and it would be at least another year before you’d be tasting the Petit Verdot. And once you have your bottle in hand, it is ready to drink! There is no need to bottle-age your Pinot Grigio; it is best enjoyed young.

3. Same Grape, Different Names

Hawk Haven.IMG_0474The name Pinot Grigio is just one of many for this particular varietal. It is traditionally a French grape from the Burgundy region where it is called Pinot Gris, but it is also very commonly grown in Alsace where it used to be called Tokay d’Alsace. The flavor profile there is quite different from the Burgundian version. It is from Italy that the grape gets the Grigio, but rest assured it is the same varietal. In other countries you might hear other names like Grauer Mönch in Germany, Monemvasia in Greece, and Szürkebarát in Hungary. In the U.S. you will see both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris on the label, but again, it’s all the same, though the winemaking styles may differ from region to region. The fun part is trying different Pinots from different regions or vintages and finding out what differences there are as far as colors, aromas, and flavors. Actually the fun part is all in the drinking, but you can really train your palate to pick up all the difference nuances of a particular varietal when you’re sampling from multiple locations or years.

4. Relative of Pinot Noir

Chehalem_pinot_noir_grapesAlthough there are thousands of different grape varietals out there, many of them are relatives or hybrids and Pinot Grigio is no exception. Many studies of PG’s DNA have revealed a close relation to the Pinot Noir grape. In fact, even on the vine they are so alike as far as cluster and leaf shape that the only way to distinguish the two is the color, a difference attributed to a genetic mutation. Pinot Noir tends to be a darker, almost black grape, whereas Pinot Grigio, as we said before, has a more blue-gray color. And while Pinot Grigio is grown very successfully in many places throughout the world, Pinot Noir can be a little more finicky and requires very particular growing conditions. The biggest difference is obviously that Pinot Grigio is a white wine and Pinot Noir is a red wine.

5. Don’t Be a Hipster

Wine drinking is a culture and like fashion, certain wines go in and out of style. A lot of wine snobs will turn their noses up to Pinot Grigio because it is no longer trendy… or maybe it’s because it is too trendy? Whatever it is, they will spout off reasons like, “Pinot Grigio is too simple, uninteresting,” but the truth is, you can’t make blanket statements like that when it comes to wine. Sure, the mass-produced, cheap versions might not taste so great, and certainly there are some crappy expensive bottles out there. But there are so many factors that go into making a wine, from the growing region and conditions, to the winemaking styles, that you’re never going to taste two Pinot Grigios that taste exactly the same unless it is the same vintage from the same winery made with the same process. I recently did a vertical tasting of Hawk Haven Pinot Grigios; one from every year since 2009, and we were amazed at the divergence of flavors and aromas from year to year. So just because it isn’t “cool” anymore to drink Pinot Grigio, don’t let that stop you. Or maybe you’re one of those uber-hipsters who thinks its cool to like things that aren’t cool to regular hipsters because they are too mainstream. I don’t even know if that made sense, but my point is, drink more Pinot Grigio.

And you can start by visiting our tasting room to try our 2012 Pinot Grigio! Bright and mouth-filling with flavors of Bosc pear, honeydew melon, kiwi, and a lingering finish of grapefruit. It would make a great starter wine if you just want to have a glass before dinner, or try it with a nice shellfish entree. Whatever you do, feel free to share your favorite pairings with us, either here, on our facebook page, or email us at info@hawkhavenvineyard.com

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