The Other Pinot Grigio – German Pinot Gris and Blanc

Stainless steel for purity of flavor
Stainless steel for purity of flavor

Given the ongoing popularity of Pinot Grigio/Gris in the U.S. (2nd most popular white variety after Chardonnay in 2012 per Gomberg Fredrikson) I wanted to provide my own perspective of this particular wine from around the world.  The benchmark Pinot Gris/Grigio are from Alsace, Oregon and northeast Italy.  Pinot Gris is a pale golden colored, medium-full bodied wine with peach and spice flavors.  The Pinot Grigio from Italy tends to be a much lighter, crisper style while Alsatian Pinot Gris has the rich, full-bodied and oily style of a warm, dry region.  Oregon falls inbetween, with a fresh, fruit-driven character.

Germany’s Pfalz region has a similar terroir to Alsace but is about 150 km (90 miles) to the north – and in Europe, small distances make a lot of difference.  The Grauburgunder aka Pinot Gris of the Pfalz is lighter-bodied and fresher than Alsace but more minerally than Oregon.  It’s also very dry compared to Alsatian wines, which often contains some residual sugar.

Pinot Blanc, a white mutation of the pink-skinned Pinot Gris, is not generally known to make distinctive wines.  It can be relatively neutral but has good acidity, causing it to be used as a blending wine or for sparkling wines.  However, in the Pfalz, Pinot Blanc aka Weissburgunder (also weisser burgunder) reaches greater heights.

Two of the Pfalz’ finest producers, Messmer and Okonomierat Rebholz, include Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc among their finest wines along with dry Riesling of course.   And they really are.  Both producers make these wines in temperature-controlled stainless steel to retain the purity of fruit and minerality in the wines.

Messmer’s 2007 Grauerburgunder Kabinett is a dry, medium-bodied wine with moderate 13% alcohol, balanced acidity and fresh peach flavors.  The 2007 Weisser burgunder Schlossgarten Im Goldenen Jost  is a beautiful wine with seamless balance of ripe orchard fruit, full body and clear acidity.  5% of the wine was made in new oak for sublest nuance.  During four months of ageing, the lees was stirred once a week – twice per week for barrel – which gives the wine rich mouthfeel.  Schlossgarten Im Goldenen Jost is a VDP Erste Lage or “Grand Cru” site.  It has a small 5% slope with red and yellow sandy soils over a limestone base.

Rebholz’ Weissburgunder from the Im Sonnenschein Erste Lage is one of their most famous wines.  On these soils of colored sandstone and limestone, the 2006 Im Sonnenschein Weisser Burgunder imparts a rich yellow hue and tropical fruit aromas with a hint of kirsch.  On the palate, fresh apples and medium body.  The 2008 tasted from the barrel showed even greater intensity of mango and kirsch aromas.  Granted these are youthful estery aromas but the concentration of ripe apple and pear fruit, balanced acidity, full body and long finish point to a potentially fine wine in a not so fine vintage.  2008 was a cool vintage in this region but Rebholz waited until the fruit was ripe and harvested in November, one of the latest for them.

The next time I taste a Pinot Gris, Grigio or Pinot Blanc, I shall benchmark them against the wines of the Pfalz.

updated September 28, 2013