If you're browsing the pinot grigio section of a grocery or a specialty shop that displays wine by varietal, you probably will see bottles that are labeled as pinot gris. That's because pinot grigio is the Italian synonym for pinot gris, a grape that has its origins in France's Alsace region.
Pinot is French for pine, which describes the pine-cone shape of the grape clusters. Gris is French for gray, referring to the grape's grayish hue.
The grape is also grown in the United States, primarily in California, Washington and Oregon. The labeling of a domestic wine with the name pinot gris or pinot grigio often indicates if the wine is made in the Italian or French style.
An Italian pinot grigio tends to be a light-bodied, crisp white wine. These are usually simple, fruity wines that are easy to drink, either as an aperitif or with lighter fare. Alsatian pinot gris are rich, complex whites that can have concentrated aromas of flowers, almonds and honey. These are bigger-bodied wines best served with food.
I thought I'd take a look at the 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle pinot gris from Washington's Columbia Valley and the 2009 Acrobat produced by King Estate in western Oregon. When I purchased them in June at the Ladue Crossing Schnucks, they were each on sale for $10.99. This month, the Acrobat is $12.99 and the Chateau Ste. Michelle is $11.99.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington's oldest winery, launched its pinot gris with the 2001 vintage. Like many Alsatian pinot gris, the Chateau Ste. Michelle is unoaked, fermented in stainless steel tanks.
The Chateau Ste. Michelle is composed of 94 percent pinot gris and 6 percent viognier, which adds to its floral notes. This sumptuous, medium- to full-bodied white is aromatic with a fragrance of flowers, honey and spice. It's fresh and juicy, with layers of pear and peach flavors, some citrus and a clean finish with spice notes. It has an alcohol level of 13.5 percent and is best served with food. It would be wonderful with grilled salmon and with pasta in alfredo sauce.
Although the Acrobat pinot gris is also made in the Alsatian style, it's lighter in body than the Ste. Michelle and lower in alcohol, with a level of 12.5 percent. It also is unoaked and fermented in stainless steel. This clean, refreshing pinot gris tastes of melon, lemon and spice. It would go well with appetizers, seafood and slightly spicy foods like curried chicken.
Acrobat is the entry-level label of King Estate, which is credited with bringing Oregon pinot gris to America's attention. The Acrobat brand, which also includes pinot noir, was launched with the 2008 vintage. It was well received by wine critics; Wine & Spirits Magazine recognized it as one of 50 Value Brands of the Year, one of only 17 American brands cited. The pinot gris, which has a suggested retail price of $11.99 and is King Estate's lowest-priced pinot gris, received 90 points from the magazine.