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Don't Get Your Pinot Wines Confused

With the proliferation of new wine brands from all over the world, it is not surprising to witness the growing confusion between pinot gris, pinot blanc, and pinot grigio. In truth, they all are mutations of pinot noir, but different because of how they are made and where they are grown.

While pinot gris is often barrel-aged and thus more round, pinot grigio is usually made in stainless-steel tanks and thus more fresh and fruity. A pinot gris made in Alsace is more likely to be fruity and slightly sweet. That made in its home of northern Italy is dry and minerally. The pinot grigio or pinot gris sold in California, Washington, and Oregon seem to have less acidity and more apple and peach fruit flavors. They are drier than that made in Alsace, but heavier on the palate. Of course, these are generalizations, but may help you understand why you like Italian pinot grigio but not an Washington pinot gris.

Pinot grigio was actually born in Burgundy where it was known as pinot gris. It made its way to Italy only after passing through Switzerland. Today, it is Italy's highest-sold white wine.

The other generalization we can make about this grape variety is that the cheaper versions – like Cavit sold in large format bottles – are sweet and without a lot of character. They are bulked produce in large stainless-steel tanks and have less natural acidity. Those aged in oak have more complexity and thus more expensive.

If you enjoy this wine, you are better off to stick with bottles that sell for more than $15.

  • Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio 2014 ($20). Very floral, this full-bodied pinot grigio with apple flavors is a great representation of what kind of quality can come from a real pinot grigio from northern Italy.

  • Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio 2015 ($17). This is a terrific wine for pinot grigio devotees who want something different. It's the first pinot grigio rosé we have tasted and it’s a gem. Rich and racy, it struts tropical fruit flavors and reasonable acidity.

  • Alois Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2015 ($25). A solid performer year after year, this generous pinot grigio is a good sipping wine or one to pair with fruit and fowl. Soft mouth-feel with good acidity with stone fruit, spice flavors.

  • Swanson Vineyards San Benito Pinot Grigio 2016 ($21). This Napa Valley pinot grigio bursts with floral and citrus aromas, followed by stone fruit flavors. 

  • Terlato Fruili Pinot Grigio 2016 ($23). Terlato makes something special out of Italy's prized pinot grigio grape. It is more complex than most other pinot grigios with ripe peach and pear flavors and a crisp acidity.

  • Nine Hats Pinot Gris 2016 ($15). The pinot gris from Washington's Horse Heaven Hills AVA is well worth your time and dollar. This one is named after the renowned wine-making stars of Long Shadows Winery. It has generous floral aromas and stone fruit flavors.

  • J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Gris 2016 ($20). The producer has preserved the freshness of this pinot gris with stainless-steel fermentation. Pineapple and peach aromas lead off flavors of ripe pear and lime.


Duckhorn produces a series of extraordinary chardonnays under its Migration label. These wines – all unique to their Napa Valley appellations – demonstrate the significance of terroir in crafting single-vineyard chardonnays.

Frankly, this is a refreshing demonstration in light of a general trend toward generic wine that cross appellations. Chardonnay, in particular, seems to fall victim to winemakers whose indiscriminate blending can strip the wine of traits unique to a single vineyard.

Migration winemaker Dana Epperson said, "Every vineyard we work with was selected because it yields distinctive and exciting wines. While there is a stylistic continuity that runs through them all, each vineyard-designate has a personality of its own."

We tasted five Migration chardonnays side-by-side and were awestruck by their differences. For instance, the Running Creek chardonnay from the Russian River Valley was tightly wound, laser focused, and fresh while the Dierberg Vineyard chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley was broad on the palate, lush and ripe.

Migration also has chardonnays from a Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and the Charles

Heintz Vineyard in Sonoma Coast. We very much enjoyed the mineral, apple flavors, and luxurious feel of the Heintz Vineyard version at $55.

Those of you who have given up on chardonnay need to taste these wines and appreciate what good can be done in the right hands.


  • Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve ($80). What the heck, the summer is coming to an end and why not cap it off with an expensive rosé? You'll feel a lot better about the impending fall if you sip this charming blend of meunier, chardonnay, and pinot noir.

  • Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Rosé Brut NV St Hilaire ($12). A bargain price for this well-made sparkling wine from the Languedoc region of France. Mostly chardonnay with a bit of chenin blanc and pinot noir, this sparkler is great by itself or an accompaniment with brunch or appetizers. Peach notes with a bit of lemon and orange.

  • Le Grand Courtage Brut Rosé ($25). From Burgundy, this sparkling wine is an unusual, seductive blend of chardonnay, ugni blanc and gamay. Floral, raspberry aromas and balanced acidity.

  • Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé ($29). Pinot noir dominates the profile of this vibrant, strawberry-laced sparkling wine from Sonoma.

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