For the past 15 years, Pinot Gris has been Oregon’s go-to white wine grape. With more than 15,000 tons harvested in 2015, Pinot Gris is even more dominant.
Pinot Gris, which experts believe is a mutation of Pinot Noir, is most famous in France’s Alsace region, but also has gained international acclaim in Italy where it goes by the name Pinot Grigio.
For years, Chardonnay was Oregon’s white wine. This makes perfect sense because Pinot Gris and Chardonnay work well together in France’s Burgundy and Champagne regions. However, in 2000, Pinot Gris overtook Chardonnay in total tonnage in Oregon, and winemakers never looked back. Today, Oregon makes more than four times as much Pinot Gris as Chardonnay.
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Ponzi Vineyards 2016 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: Next year will signal the 40th anniversary of the Ponzi family’s plantings of Pinot Gris, and these pioneers remain very much at the forefront of Oregon’s work with this white grape from Burgundy. Second-generation winemaker Luisa Ponzi likens the 2016 vintage to that of 2006, and this is a gorgeous snapshot of last year. Tropical aromas hinting at banana chips and jasmine include honeydew melon and grapefruit. Deliciously tingly flavors include white peach and lime juice, backed by orange zest and nectarine skin. The scale of production and national distribution make this widely available.
Elk Cove Vineyards 2016 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: The winemaking team of Adam Campbell and Heather Perkin combined to produce the top two Pinot Gris of the recent Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition — the Pike Road 2016 bottling and this one by Elk Cove Vineyards. Much of the hand-harvested clusters were taken from the Campbell family’s original planting, which they populated with Pinot Gris starting in 1985. It resulted in a bounty of citrus notes, showing off lemon, lime and tangerine aromas with a floral influence of sweet freesia. On the palate, a delightful balance of basil and mint complements the tangerine bitters and Meyer lemon juice flavors.
Youngberg Hill 2016 Aspen Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $25: McMinnville vintner Wayne Bailey has joined others in Oregon’s Willamette Valley by transitioning some of his Pinot Gris over to Chardonnay. His remaining 2 1/2 acres of 10-year-old Gris in the family’s Aspen Block makes for an easy and delicious drink. At his iconic B&B, guests enjoy it on the deck with cheese, bread and a light virgin olive oil.
Duck Pond Fries Family Cellars 2016 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $14: The Fries family and winemaker Trevor Chlanda have the luxury of working with estate vineyards in the Willamette Valley as well as the warmer Umpqua Valley for their program. It is their St. Jory site north of Salem, cropped to a remarkably low 2 tons per acre for Pinot Gris, that forms the foundation for this charmer that starts remarkably tropical yet packs a nice punch in the finish. Papaya, mango, tutti frutti, mint and white pepper aromas lead to flavors of white peach, backed by Granny Smith apple and gooseberry acidity.
Wine By Joe 2015 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $14: One of Oregon’s most acclaimed winemakers, “Hollywood” Joe Dobbes, pulls largely from his 30-year-old Seabreeze Vineyard northwest of Salem for this bottling under his bargain Wine By Joe program. With a light to medium body, the juice lingers across the palate to deliver a creamy texture of rich pear and another dose of lemon that begs for garlic hummus and pita chips or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese. This earned a gold medal at the 2017 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Acrobat 2015 Pinot Gris, Oregon, $13: King Estate winemakers Spencer Spetnagel and Brent Stone collaborated on this sister brand, which sources from their iconic Territorial Road property and beyond for a harvest that came earlier than ever. Remarkable aromas of peach, Key lime and grapefruit pick up secondary notes of perfumy flannel sheets. Three months on the lees and 0.5 percent residual sugar steer the structure down the path of Bosc pear and jasmine with more orchard fruit and delicious lemony acidity.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com