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Re-Defining a Category
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 15, 2014
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Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon), Pinot Gris 2013 ($17):  Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape in different languages, but the two names represent vastly different styles of wine.  Pinot Grigio is typically a pale, dry, crisp, refreshing and often innocuous white wine from Italy (or a sweeter, fruitier rendition thereof when applied to a California wine), while Pinot Gris classically is a rich, dry, nearly full-bodied, flavorful white wine from the Alsace region of France. 

While those generalizations are accurate, many exceptions challenge them.  Pinot Grigio from the Italian region of Friuli, for example, is far more “serious” a wine than the norm.  And Pinot Gris from Oregon is a whole different style from Alsace Pinot Gris.  In fact, Oregon Pinot Gris wines generally offer a taste that’s distinct enough to be considered a third classic style of wine from the Pinot Gris/ Grigio grape. 

In a recent blind tasting of miscellaneous white wines, I suddenly “got” the Oregon Pinot Gris style.  Here before me was a well-made white wine, solid in quality and yet simply delightful in personality, a pretty, flavorful wine that aimed to please more than simply to impress.  It was a wine that, on a warm summer day, might tempt a critic to quit the analytical wine-tasting, grab the chilled bottle and head for the patio.  I knew that many Oregon producers aim for a crowd-pleasing style in their Pinot Gris wines, and here it was.

Because the quality of the wine was as high as its personality was delightful, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the wine was the Pinot Gris of Ponzi Vineyards, which has long been one of my favorite wineries in Willamette Valley.  Ponzi is a pioneer winery in Oregon, established 44 years ago and now run by its second generation of family members, with Luisa Ponzi the winemaker.  Ponzi is best known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and I personally also admire its Pinot Blanc and its Arneis, a white variety from Italy’s Piedmont region.  But Pinot Gris has been a key variety for Ponzi since the early days, when the first vines were planted in 1978.

The aroma of the 2013 Ponzi Pinot Gris is fairly pronounced and complex, with gentle notes of lime, white peach, and a delicate floral scent.  The wine’s taste is dry and medium-bodied with crisp acidity and the perkiness of a small amount of CO2 that remains from fermentation.  Fresh fruit flavors echo the notes in the aroma while lemony flavors emerge -- all showing good concentration.  A very slight grip on your tongue suggests the pleasant bitterness of peach skins and a savory mineral character, giving the wine a touch of gravitas that carries into the finish.  All these characteristics together make for a very fresh, fruity, lively and delicious wine that also hits all the quality markers of flavor concentration, balance, depth on the mid-palate, and length.

The 2013 Ponzi Pinot Gris has just 12.8 percent alcohol.  Although it contains 5.7 grams of residual sugar -- which many winemakers would categorize as dry, if not bone-dry -- the fresh acidity balances the sugar so well that the wine really does taste dry.

This wine is tremendously food-friendly, thanks to its combination of high acidity, flavor, and that minerally grip.  A seasonal dish of mozzarella and fresh tomatoes makes a great accompaniment, as does fresh corn, grilled fish, pork sausage or even Spicy Indian-style eggplant.  The wine is also a great value.

90 Points