Alsace is located in the northeastern corner of France cut off from the rest of the country by a string of mountains running north to south called the Vosges. Sitting there in the rain shadow that the Vosges offer the vineyards, Alsace produces many different styles of wine – from dry, austere Riesling all the way to full sweet and nobly rotted SGN wines (Selection des Grains Nobles made from grapes affected by botyris rot).
This wine is neither of those, but is an off dry Pinot Gris. One of the four noble white grapes of Alsace (Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Riesling are the others), Pinot Gris is known by many names the world over – Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder, Rulander and Malvoisie just to name a few.
It’s a mutant clone of the Pinot Noir grape and is believed to have spontaneously mutated (‘poof’) several centuries ago in the vineyard. Its leaves look remarkably like Pinot Noir’s and the grape bunches are also shaped the same – as cones – or pinots.
Pinot Gris is a very popular grape, beloved by consumers and producers alike all over the world. It’s easy to grow and has popped up almost everywhere; there are immense quantities of it in Italy’s Veneto from Emilia-Romagna up to Alto Adige/Trentino and over to the Slovenian border in Friuli. There are oceans of it in Germany, loads in Alsace and in the New World, it’s grown in California, Oregon, Washington, the Okanagan Valley, Chile, Argentina, Australia and it’s the new up-and-coming grape of New Zealand.
It can reach high yields (so it’s profitable), is easily made in stainless steel with screw caps, doesn’t require oaking or any ageing (so no barrels or time spent in storage is required) and it’s versatile and can be made into different styles (dry through to sweet). For many producers in some countries (like for example Italy’s Veneto), it is the volume leader for sales and aimed specifically at novice and especially female drinkers.
Consumers love it because it’s easy to say, easy to find (everyone sells it), relatively cheap (especially those ubiquitous and neutral Italian products), and pairs easily with most food. It’s easily quaffable and loves summer days and patios just as much as salads and fish dishes. How bad can that be? (Well, sometimes pretty bad…)
So, we know it’s a popular grape and available just about anywhere around the world at entry level pricing. This version though is a little different. For starters it’s hardly entry level priced at C$35. A DOP level wine from Colmar where the temperatures exceed the rest of Alsace by about 1c (it doesn’t sound like much but it affects the grapes and ripening times immensely), this one is clear and bright, deep lemon and has viscous legs.
It’s clean and youthful with medium plus intense aromas of honey, orange zest, honeysuckle and marmalade. There’s a lot of alcohol on the nose and that plays into the palate which is off dry with medium minus acidity, high alcohol and medium plus body. The medium intensity is augmented by flavours of more orange peel and marmalade, yellow grapefruit, a honeyed character and a medium finish.
This wine is WSET Good; the low acidity and very high alcohol (it must be chaptalised as there’s no way the grapes could have that much sugar in them and still make off dry wine) leave it unbalanced. The nose is so inviting and the viscous legs look great but that promise isn’t borne out on the palate in terms of acidity or length.
That said, this wine came alive with sushi, soy sauce and wasabi – its profile did a full 360 when the wasabi hit the residual sugar. A great sushi wine and worth a try for that.