No, that’s not the color of the wine. And I’m not referring to how the wine was produced though
there are many “gray” wine production methods from adding both additional sugar and acid
during thin vintages or employing oak sawdust or 4x4 oak “lumber” instead of oak barrel aging for
that barrel aged flavor. What I’m talking about is that gray grape, specifically Pinot Grigio or
Pinot Gris depending on where it’s produced (it also goes by the names Rulander, Grauer
Burgunder and Pinot Beurot but these are rarely seen on the label).
Is it related to Pinot Noir? Funny you should ask. Why yes it is. As I mentioned in a previous
column, the Pinot family of grapes are very genetically unstable mutating depending on
temperature, soil conditions, etc . The two main varieties that produce red wine are Pinot Noir
(Pinot “black”) and Pinot Meunier (Pinot “miller” as in milled flour due to the presence of “flour”
spots on the underside of the leaf). Both are used in sparkling wine and Pinot Noir also makes
great still wine here in California, in Oregon and in Burgundy, France. The two main varieties that
produce white wine are Pinot Blanc (Pinot “white”) and Pinot Grigio (Pinot “gray”). It’s
interesting that the color of Pinot Grigio is actually a grayish blue and you would assume that the
wine that’s produced would be red but Pinot Grigio is a white wine. And a very good white wine
that spans the flavor spectrum from citrusy, lemony all the way up to rich stone fruit flavors
depending on where it’s grown.
From the Golden State
Pinot Grigio from the Golden State tends to be lighter in color with a pale straw hue and lemon-
citrus flavors and a light body. They are perfect with any delicate seafood including oysters, clams,
flaky white flesh fish and shrimp. When pairing seafood, just ask yourself if a squeeze of lemon
would enhance the dish. If your answer is yes, then Pinot Grigio would also complement the dish.
Another benefit of Pinot Grigio other than its seafood friendly nature
is that it’s also wallet friendly. Most bottles will only set you back $20
max with most bottles in the $12 to $15 range. In fact one of my
standby wines doesn’t even come in a bottle. It’s packaged in a 1 liter
Tetra pack container from Three Thieves with their Bandit Pinot Grigio.
What!? Is the economy in the Aloha State that bad that I’ve resorted
to box wine? Well, it’s actually not “box” wine since there’s no
cardboard box involved. It initially started as a gag gift for my Mom
who does partake in box wine. I tried some and was sold! At $5.99 to
$7.50 a container, it provides 33% more wine than the standard bottle
and is packaged in 70% renewable resources. Green to boot! This would
be the perfect wine for your next backyard seafood boil and you don’t
have to worry about cumbersome bottles, glass breakage or liquidating
your 401k! Clean, crisp white wine that dances with seafood on the palate!
If you do prefer your wine in glass enclosures, then my next recommendation would be Luna
Pinot Grigio. With their Tuscan styled winery and tasting room at the beginning of the Silverado
Trail, Luna produces very good Pinot Grigio that can pair with heartier dishes like roasted pork or
dark fleshed fish. Because they add a touch of Chardonnay to the blend, it gives the wine an extra
dimension of richness yet it retains the lemony-citrusy character in California Pinot Grigio.
Farther north in Oregon, Pinot Grigio takes on earthier and richer fruit tones. It also takes on its
alternate name; Pinot Gris. While some of the citrusy qualities remain, the wine now emanates
peach, apricot and rounder flavors. These richer flavor profiles allows it to pair with dishes like
roasted pork, lighter meat game and even pate. Pate, isn’t that the stuff of animal organs? Well it’
s simply chicken, duck, goose or pork liver processed into a semi-solid mousse but when consumed
in miniscule quantities, add a flavor dimension not found in the vegetable world. And one if its
favorite beverage companions is a rich Pinot Gris.
Back to the Old World
In the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia or Alto-Adige regions of Italy, it’s the white wine you’ll probably see
with lighter fare and like the Golden State, its name is Pinot Grigio. Supposedly, the white wine
imported the most from Europe is a Pinot Grigio – I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial on the
cable networks featuring the slim brunette in the black dress admiring herself in the mirror. Yes
that wine is a Pinot Grigio. And while it maintains that same lemony-citrusy quality, it also has a
pleasing underlying minerality about it. Like lemon juice with a touch of stone to balance the
earthy qualities of the food you’re consuming.
And if you travel a little farther North, you’ll find the wines of Alsace, France where once again,
the wines are known as Pinot Gris (as opposed to Pinot Grigio). These wines are usually the richest
and earthiest that Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio) gets. The stone fruit aromas usually are the primary
sensations with lemon and citrus taking a backseat and always with spicy qualities usually not
found in domestic or Italian labels. This is the Pinot Gris that was meant to pair with pate –
especially bottles with 10 or so years of aging. However these bottles will set you back $20 up to
$50 though late harvest versions (vendange tardive) can approach the $400 range… but since
most of us don’t consume pate on a regular basis, I say once in a while is worth the price… the
$20 to $50 versions at least.
The Alternate White Wine
So the next time you want to drink a white wine but feel that a Chardonnay is just a bit heavy
(those hot dog days of summer) for both the palate and the food and you don’t want the
herbaceous qualities of a Sauvignon Blanc, consider that gray variation of Pinot, Pinot Grigio or
Pinot Gris. Great with lighter dishes though robust enough to go with pate (if you want to
indulge) and definitely lighter on the wallet. For a couple of food pairing recommendations, try
my Pesto Clam Pasta with Californian or Italian Pinot Grigio or my rendition of that exquisite
Vietnamese sandwich, Banh Mi with either an Oregonian or Alsatian Pinot Gris.
Clam Pesto Pasta
½ lb Barilla Plus Angel Hair pasta cooked to package instructions
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cans chopped/minced clams, drained but with liquid reserved
1 clove minced fresh garlic
½ small onion minced
½ c pesto, fresh, bottled or packaged preferably without cheese
½ c dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 tbsp arrowroot mixed with a dash of water or wine to dissolve
Heat olive oil on medium high temperature then sauté drained clams, onion and garlic until garlic
softened, about 3 minutes. Add clam juice and white wine and cook another 2 minutes. Season
with black pepper and salt then add arrowroot mixture to thicken then toss with cooked Angel
Hair pasta. Serve with a California or Italian Pinot Grigio.
Crusty French style baguette
Pickled julienne of carrots and daikon
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Sandwich meat of your choice
-the traditional sandwich meat is steamed pork and ham though
chicken and other cold cuts are also used
No measurements are given as sandwich can be constructed to your
preference. For the pickled carrots and daikon, I use 1 part sugar, 1 part
water, 2 parts Japanese vinegar and ½ part salt and soak the vegetables for at least 24 hours then
drain and paper towel dry before adding to the sandwich.
For sandwich construction, spread the pate on the lower half of the baguette with the mayonnaise
on the top half. Place the sandwich meat over the pate then add the julienned pickled vegetables
and a couple of sprigs of cilantro. The main components of the Banh Mi are the pate, the
mayonnaise and the pickled vegetables. Fillings can be selected to your preference and the
baguette doesn’t have to be the tear-your-upper-palate variety though that’s the traditional type
used. I also highly encourage the use of fresh cilantro. If you don’t like it, try it again. Serve with
an Oregon or Alsatian Pinot Gris.
The Gray Wine