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May 14, 2024

The Versatile World of Pinot Gris

Among the vast repertoire of white wine varietals, Pinot Gris stands out with its elegant versatility and regional diversity. Renowned for adapting uniquely to its environment, this grape varietal manifests distinct characteristics based on where it is grown, which range from the rich, spicy profiles of Alsace to the crisp, refreshing notes typical of Italian Pinot Grigio. In this post we will delve into the world of Pinot Gris, highlighting its regional variations, ideal food pairings, serving suggestions, and a special focus on its expression in Canada’s Okanagan Valley, particularly those that we offer here at Okanagan Crush Pad.

Pinot Gris vs. Pinot Grigio

Though both names refer to the same grape, the terms ‘Pinot Gris’ and ‘Pinot Grigio’ often hint at different styles due to regional winemaking traditions. Pinot Gris in France, particularly in Alsace, is typically full-bodied, with a rich, almost oily texture, and offers aromas of almond, spice, and honey. In contrast, Italian Pinot Grigio is harvested early to maintain its acidity, resulting in a lighter, crisper wine that emphasizes citrus and green apple flavors.

The difference also extends to the winemaking process, where Alsacian Pinot Gris often sees some degree of oak aging or more extended contact with the grape skins, providing it with a greater structure and potential for aging. Meanwhile, Italian Pinot Grigio is usually vinified in stainless steel tanks to preserve its freshness and zesty fruit flavors, aimed at being consumed young.

Across the globe, the expression of Pinot Gris varies significantly:

  • Alsace, France: Known for its complex, structured wines that can age well. These wines often exhibit flavors of dried fruit, spice, and smoke.
  • Northern Italy: Produces lighter, crisper wines with high acidity, making them excellent for aperitifs or pairing with light seafood dishes.
  • Germany and Austria: Here, it’s often called Grauburgunder and can be quite full-bodied, sometimes with a slight sweetness.
  • Oregon, USA: Oregon Pinot Gris is fruit-forward with a robust presence of pear, apple, and melon, coupled with a refreshing acidity that makes it very food-friendly.

Here at home, the Okanagan Valley’s unique climate—hot summers and cold winters— allows the grapes to ripen fully while retaining essential acidity. This balance results in wines that are both aromatic and structured, with a capacity to express a range of flavors from crisp and refreshing to rich and textured. The mineral-rich soils add a layer of complexity, giving Okanagan Pinot Gris a characteristic flinty note that is highly prized.

Okanagan Crush Pad is known for its innovative approach to viticulture and winemaking, with a strong focus on organic practices and sustainability. The winery manages several vineyards, but two in particular are noteworthy for their Pinot Gris production: Switchback Vineyard and King Family Vineyard.

Switchback Vineyard:

Located in Summerland, Switchback Vineyard is the cornerstone of our wine program. Certified organic, the vineyard is meticulously tended to ensure that the vines are healthy and the ecosystem is supported. The Pinot Gris from Switchback is celebrated for its vibrant acidity and layered complexity, featuring notes of citrus, stone fruits, and distinctive herbal undertones that speak to the organic practices and the unique microclimate of the site.

King Family Vineyard:

Situated on the Naramata Bench, King Family Vineyard benefits from a slightly different microclimate, which imparts a unique character to its Pinot Gris. The wines from this vineyard typically showcase a brighter fruit profile, with elements of fresh pears and tropical citrus, complemented by savory notes that make them exceptionally food-friendly.

Switchback Vineyard

Featured Wines

From these two vineyards, we are proud to offer several remarkable Pinot Gris wines from numerous vintages that beautifully capture the essence of our unique terroir:

2019 Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris:

This vintage is a testament to the classic characteristics of the Switchback Vineyard, with a creamy mouthfeel and lively acidity. The flavors are a complex blend of citrus and stone fruits with a backdrop of herbal notes, making it a versatile wine for pairing.

2020 Switchback Pinot Gris:

Continuing the tradition of excellence, the 2020 vintage offers similar qualities with additional layers of texture and minerality. The winemaking approach focused on natural fermentation and aging on lees, which enhances the wine’s complexity and aging potential.

2021 Switchback Pinot Gris:

This wine stands out for its structural complexity and fine texture, achieved through extended lees aging and careful winemaking. It is particularly noted for its suitability with rich poultry dishes, embodying the adaptability of Pinot Gris to both the terroir and the culinary landscape.

2022 Switchback Pinot Gris:

This wine is whole cluster pressed and fermented naturally then aged in concrete tanks. 11 months on lees with constant stirring delivered a complex wine with fine structureand texture. Beautiful aromas of orange blossom, white grapefruit and honeycomb and a rich, but fresh palate with a long finish and perfectly balanced acidity.

2022 Haywire King Family Pinot Gris:

Reflecting the unique terroir of the Naramata Bench, this wine combines fresh pear and tropical citrus flavors with Okanagan’s savory notes, creating a delightful balance that is both refreshing and satisfying.

2023 Haywire Pinot Gris Pouch:

Innovative in both packaging and wine style, this offering is designed for environmental sustainability and ease of enjoyment. The wine itself is versatile, pairing well with a variety of light dishes and suitable for casual occasions.

Free Form Pinot Gris 2020:

Produced from organically grown grapes, this wine is fermented in amphorae and aged on skins, resulting in a unique profile of creamsicle and toffee notes. This natural wine is an excellent choice for those looking to explore complex pairings, such as with sophisticated sushi or fine caviar.

These offerings not only highlight the diversity of Pinot Gris but also reflect the commitment of Okanagan Crush Pad and Haywire Winery to producing wines that are expressive of their origins and respectful of the environment. Each vintage tells a story of the land and the meticulous care that goes into every bottle, offering wine enthusiasts a genuine taste of the Okanagan Valley.

Pinot Gris Grapes at Harvest

Food and Wine Pairings for Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris’ adaptability makes it a favorite for many culinary pairings. Its balance of zest and body allows it to accompany a wide range of dishes:

Seafood Delights

  • Scallops and Creamy Sauces: The rich texture of scallops, especially when prepared with buttery or creamy sauces, pairs wonderfully with the full-bodied nature of the Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris. The wine’s robust profile complements the creaminess of the sauce without overpowering the delicate taste of the scallops.
  • Grilled Salmon: Pinot Gris from the Okanagan, with its balance of fruitiness and acidity, can enhance the flavor of grilled salmon. The citrus undertones of the wine bring out the richness of the salmon, especially when garnished with lemon or lime.
Poultry Pairings
  • Roasted Chicken: A classic pairing for Pinot Gris, particularly the richer styles from the Okanagan, is roasted chicken. The herbal and fruit notes of the wine complement the savory flavors of the chicken, especially when accompanied by herbs like rosemary or thyme.
  • Turkey with Cranberry Sauce: During festive seasons, a Pinot Gris with good acidity and fruity notes can balance the sweetness of cranberry sauce with turkey, providing a refreshing counterpoint to every bite.
Vegetarian Favorites
  • Butternut Squash Risotto: The slightly sweet, nutty flavor of butternut squash risotto pairs beautifully with a medium-bodied Pinot Gris. The wine’s crispness cuts through the richness of the risotto, making each mouthful perfectly balanced.
  • Cheese Platters: Pinot Gris is excellent with soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert, which complement its creamy texture and fruity undertones. Include fruits like apples or pears on the platter to enhance the pairing experience.

Spicy and Aromatic Dishes

  • Thai and Indian Cuisine: The subtle sweetness and robust body of Pinot Gris can stand up to the robust flavors and spices in Thai or Indian dishes. It pairs especially well with coconut-based curries or dishes with a hint of sweetness, as the wine’s acidity and fruitiness provide a pleasant contrast to the heat and spices.
  • Szechuan Chicken: The spice and intensity of Szechuan chicken can be a challenging pair for many wines, but a slightly off-dry Pinot Gris with its fruity and floral notes can complement the dish’s heat without overwhelming the palate.

Pinot Gris is a varietal as diverse as the regions in which it’s grown. Each expression, from the light and crisp Italian Pinot Grigio to the rich and textured Alsacian Pinot Gris, tells a story of its unique terroir. The Okanagan Valley, with its distinctive climate and pioneering wineries OCP and Haywire Winery, contributes its own chapters to this story, showcasing how a commitment to sustainable and organic practices can result in wines that not only taste exceptional but also respect and reflect their natural origins.

As wine lovers continue to seek out both quality and sustainability in their wine choices, our offerings stand out as exemplars of how wine can convey a sense of place while also pushing forward the boundaries of winemaking innovation. Whether you’re a seasoned sommelier or a casual enthusiast, the Pinot Gris from Okanagan Crush Pad and Haywire Winery offers a delightful taste of what the Okanagan has to offer.