Pairing with Pinot Gris

Pinot gris, also known as pinot grigio.

The Pinot grape is something of a chameleon and not just because of the variety of colors it can be found in, writes Eric Guido.  Pinot Gris, a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape, can be found around the world and in a number of different expressions from crisp to velvety and from dry to sweet.

The average consumer knows Pinot Gris very well but usually as Pinot Grigio, an often easy-drinking white from northeastern Italy. In this part of the world, it’s a wine that pairs well with a variety of foods and nearly anything from the sea, all the while showing its crisp, sweet fruit flavors, brisk acidity and quaffable personality. However, in other parts of the world, such as Alsace, France, Pinot Gris shakes off its light heart and dons a shroud of structure and spice. We’re talking about serious wines that can sometimes require time in the cellar to fully express their potential.

When it comes to Pinot Gris, it’s important to know what you’re buying because each style opens a whole new variety of food pairing ideas and roadblocks. In the last few weeks, I’ve tasted Pinot Gris from Italy, France, Oregon, California and even delved into “orange” style wines (which often use Pinot Gris). In each case, I have been pairing them with a variety of recipes to find what pairs best.

What I’ve learned is that Pinot Gris is well worth my attention and yours as well. This is not just a light-hearted wine from Northern Italy.

Beyond Your Typical Pinot Grigio

The winemakers in Friuli continue to experiment with skin fermentations and the expert use of oak. Nowhere is this more evident than at Vie di Romans.  Their Pinot Grigio is sure to be one of the most unique of its kind. It’s incredibly fragrant, soft and plush on the palate and has a hint of fruit sweetness that opens up a myriad of pairing possibilities.

In the end, the ultimate match ended up being Pork Saltimbocca with Polenta. The salty profile of the meat mixed with sage was completely contrasted by the ripe fruit of this Pinot Gris. Remember, salty and sweet is a great combination in food and wine pairing. Add the Fontina cheese to contrast the vibrant acidity and you have a perfect food and wine combination.

Right at Home In Alsace

Pinot Gris from Alsace, once referred to as Tokay d’Alsace, is right at home here with the cool climate, volcanic soils and dry autumn weather.  This combination allows Pinot Gris to develop intense flavors, a completely different aromatic profile and optimal ripeness. These are truly great wines that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

One thing to consider when pairing a Pinot Gris from Alsace is its level of sweetness. The drier styles go well with items like chicken, veal, mushrooms, salmon and scallops. The sweeter, richer wines can handle spicy dishes, such as curries, or something as rich as a plate of foie gras.  However, when you have a wine with just a slightly off-dry personality, like the one I’m recommending, recipes that are slightly smoky are what really pair best. Lentils with Smoked Sausage and Carrots were a great complement to this Pinot Gris, a recipe that I truly fell in love with.

Do you know “orange” wine?

One of the standout wineries in the “orange” wine movement isn’t making wine in Italy, or even Europe for that matter. Channing Daughters is a winery located on the South Fork of Long Island, New York. There’s no denying that the Ramato, an orange style wine made from Pinot Grigio, can stand tall against its peers. However, orange wine presents an interesting challenge for food pairing because it doesn’t behave like a white or a red, instead falling somewhere in the middle.

Pinot Gris is known to pair well with fish, yet it’s especially well known to pair well with salmon. In the case of the Channing Daughter’s Ramato, a Spice-Crusted Salmon provided the perfect balance. It was something about the spicy nature of both items that really made it work, that and the moist meat of the salmon contrasted by the dried fruit and brisk acidity of the wine. You can literally feel satisfied by just breathing in the aromas of these two items together. Spell-binding.

The Best of Both Worlds

I remember reading once that Pinot Gris from Oregon tread the middle ground between Italy and Alsace. I have to say I agree, and it’s an amazing mix. The fresh, brisk acidity of Italy mixed with the ripe, focused fruit of Alsace, with a nose that invokes more earth and savory tones, give these wines their own niche in the market.

As for pairing this wine, there was no competition. Sautéed Chicken was a clear winner. I tried this against a variety of pan sauces and almost deciding a sauce of shallot, capers, lemon and butter would be my favorite, I ended up going with a recipe of Chicken Sautéed with Apples. This was a great pairing of complementing flavors and it used the wine’s effervescence to lift the dish’s flavors to new heights.

*Do take note: I had much better luck with this recipe when I removed the chicken from the pan about three minutes earlier than instructed and let it rest covered in foil.

Back to Northern Italy

It was the Pinot Grigio of Northern Italy that was my first introduction to Italian white wine. I’m sure many of you share this experience. What’s not to like? These wines have ripe fruit, great acidity and go down like lemonade on a blistering hot day. They also pair very well with food, especially seafood.

One of my favorite pairings is a crisp Pinot Grigio with Seafood Risotto. They simply go well together. It’s something about the acidic bite of the Pinot cutting through the richness of the rice and how the seafood, which has infused its essence into the dish, slowly releases its flavors on the palate and is then washed clean with a sip of refreshing Pinot Grigio. Can you tell I’m in love? My only other recommendation is to enjoy this outdoors on a sunny, dry day. You will know a slice of heaven.

(Source: SNOOTH)