Profiling 'pinot' and its different variations

Posted: September 12, 2018 at 1:42 a.m.

We tend to throw around the word "pinot" quite a bit. It happens at restaurants and retailers around the world as customers simply state: "I would like a pinot." Only to be in turn asked, "Which pinot?" Pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot grigio, or pinot gris?

Most wine drinkers recognize these as red and white wines. But you may be surprised to learn, all pinots -- including pinot noir -- are clonal offspring of the "pinot" vine, meaning they're not just related but the same. So how can there be so many different pinots?

Pinot is the first word of many French vine varieties and its thought to refer to the shape of pinot grape bunches -- in the form of a pine (pin) cone. Researchers cite hundreds of different sorts of pinot although most are synonyms. DNA testing on grapes confirms pinot noir, pinot gris and pinot blanc are actually all mutations of the same variety. (Noir means black in French while gris means gray and blanc means white. To add to the confusion, ampelography (the study of grape vines) show there are six primary clonal variations: pinot noir (aka pinot nero), pinot gris (aka pinot grigio), pinot blanc (aka pinot bianco), pinot meunier, pinot teinturier and pinot noir precoce.

The many variations of pinot could simply be because it is a very old vine, more than 1,000 years old. Mutations and crossing are not negative and are not uncommon. For example, cabernet sauvignon is the result of a natural crossing of sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc.

Pinot noir is the "Holy Grail" of winemaking in its revered form of red Burgundy. Pinot gris can range in many styles. On the vine the grapes have a pinkish tinge. "Grigio" means the same in Italian.

This simple use of Italian versus French labeling is a clue to the consumer regarding the wine's style; the Italian version generally presents with refreshing fruit aromas and a crisper lighter bodied style while the French pinot gris is usually rich, honeyed and fuller-bodied.

THE VALUES

2017 Angeline Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)

2016 Block Nine Caiden's Vineyard, California (about $16 retail)

2017 Anne Amie Pinot Gris, Oregon (about $15 retail)

2017 Candoni Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGES

2017 Ca'Montini Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $19 retail)

2016 Trimbach Pinot Gris, France (about $22 retail)

2016 A to Z Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $27 retail)

Lorri Hambuchen is a member of London's Institute of Wines and Spirits. Contact her at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203, or email:

uncorked@thewinecenter.com

Food on 09/12/2018