Josten & Klein Schiefer Grauburgunder, Mittelrhein, Germany 2018 (from £ 21, vinoteca.co.uk; handford.net; drinkmonger.com) It’s funny to think that just a few years ago German growers would have thought twice about using the word ‘grauburgunder’ on their UK labels. In the 2000s and early 2010s, German wine was still suffering from its association with Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun et al, and most British wine drinkers were prejudiced about the type of wine you would find with a nickname that It sounds so Germanic (even if it had nothing to do with those sickly sweet marks). In fact, some German growers chose to use the Italian name for the grape, understandable since the Italian pinot grigio was among the most popular white wines. These days, the opposite is probably true: waves of watery, not very interesting wines have turned a lot of people against Italian pinot grigio, while the reputation of German wine has risen steadily. And really, the style of the Josten & Klein example, with its fleshy quince and refreshing mineral acidity, couldn’t be more different from those regular PGs.
Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris & Blanc, Santa Maria Valley, California, USA 2018 (£ 25.95, bbr.com) Not only do Germans have a different name for pinot grigio: in the Alsace region of France, the variety is known as pinot gris. Generally speaking, these are made in a style much closer to the German grauburgunder than to the grigio of an average Italian supermarket: in wines like Cave de Turckheim Pinot Tradition 2018 (from £ 10.99, rannochscott.co.uk; woodwinters.com) and the intense and complex Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2018 (£ 20.50, oddbins.com), you’ll find classic Alsace gray characters of baking spices, baked pear, and a richness that makes the style so good with aromatic spicy dishes like five-spice pork belly or, in Alsace itself, ham hock with sauerkraut. When you see pinot gris on the label anywhere in the world, it generally means the grower is aiming for something akin to Alsace style, as is the case with great Californian winemaker Jim Clendenen’s delightfully luminous combination of pinots gris and blanc.
Bottega Vinai Pinot Grigio, Trentino, Italy 2019 (from £ 11.75, woodwinters.com; thegoodwineshop.co.uk) Where once it was German wine importers who were cursed with an uphill propaganda mission, now it is importers of high-quality Italian Pinot Grigio who have to fight stereotypes. There has long been a touch of snobbery about some of the pinot grigio layoffs – the same people who like to say chardonnay with a mocking Essex accent started doing the same with pinot grigio once it started to take off in the 2000s. Admittedly, at worst, PG can be discouragingly bland and industrial, with a faint pear-drip flavor. But, in the alpine reaches of far northern Italy, there are wonderfully expressive and exquisitely balanced dry white wines made from this variety. Wines like the elegant almond blossom-scented Bottega Vinai from the local Cavit cooperative or the exotic fruit and multi-layered Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Riserva Giati, Alto-Adige 2017 (£ 24.45, wine.independent) are as full of character as the finest pinot gris or grauburgunder.
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