50 shades of Gris
Pinot Gris is possibly the most famous of the gris grapes, a French grape but made world famous by the Italians who have re-christened it Pinot Grigio. I have to be honest I am not a great fan of the stuff that comes out the Vento region of Italy that’s grown and made with no regard other than quantity, has little flavour other than lemon juice and acid and is sold in huge quantities in the pubs around the UK. I call it ‘Château Cardboard’ as for me that is what it tastes of. But give me a glass from Friuli in the very north of that same country where the climate and care of production produces zesty floral wine with a hint of mineral and I will love you for ever.
In fact I’m a big fan of all the gris grapes and often plump for a white wine from a gris grape rather than a blanc if there’s one on offer but I must admit that until I came to Languedoc I hadn’t given them much thought. I was of course conscious of Pinot Gris as the craze for it had begun in the early 2000’s but had not realised that gris grapes occur in many varieties.
My first introduction was back in 2007 when I met John and Nicole Bojanowski of Clos du Gravillas in Languedoc and tasted one of the early vintages of their stunning white wine ‘L’Inattendu’. Back then this wine was made with 100% Grenache Gris or as John who hails from America would say ‘Pink Grenache’ for with gris grapes the skins are varying shades of pink. L’Inattendu translates as ‘The Unexpected’ and it certainly was for me! Grenache Gris can never be accused of being an ‘aromatic little number’, it is always rich and tasty with a touch of white pepper and maybe some ripe stone fruit such as nectarine and is a great match for the Mediterranean food of the region. After that first tasting I became an ardent fan.
There was a time when Grenache gris was not taken seriously and was just mixed in with the red grapes at harvest time but now in Languedoc-Roussillon 100% Grenache gris wines are beginning to be fairly easy to find. Katie Jones of Domaine Jones in the heart of the Corbières makes one that you simply must try. Back in 2010 she was spotted by Robert Parker who as you would expect was in step with Grenache gris, the new kid on the block and sent one of his people to taste Katie’s prize winning wine and loved it. A few years ago Andrew Jefford named La Rectory in the Collioure appellation as one of his top 10 southern French wines. In this appellation Grenache gris is more often than not part of the blend because gris and blanc often cohabitate the same vineyard – maybe the vines just mutated where they grew, that’s definitely a possibility. I also love Thunevin Calvet’s L’Amourette 100% Grenache gris. The name means ‘ a little love’ and I certainly have a crush on this one..!
It turns out that many grapes varieties come in 3 colours and it’s thought to be a mutation, especially with Grenache which is a genetically unstable variety however most people regard the colours as separate varieties and I understand why. They definitely display different flavour characteristics with the gris being much more intensely flavoured than the blanc. Most gris grapes are used to make white wine although you can sometimes get pale pink Pinot Gris Blush where the producer has used the grape skins during the production to leach out some colour. Other southern varieties that offer three colours include Carignan, Terret and Picpoul many of which are not house hold names but I am pretty sure that many of the world’s better known grapes would have displayed 3 colours before commercial influences lead to them being bred out. But we still have Sauvignon Gris or given its true name Sauvignon Rose and if you ever get a chance to taste it I am willing to bet you will love it more than its blanc sister. It’s still used a lot in the Loire Valley and many producers in Bordeaux include a small percentage in the blend and at Bordeaux Chateau de Bellevue they make a wine that’s 100% Sauvignon Gris.
Fancy tasting some? There is no better way than tasting with the person who made it so I hope you will join us in Languedoc this year. Come and taste my favourite L’Inattendu on our Minervois tour, even after all these years this is still the one for me! Taste them with Katie Jones on our Domaine Jones & Le Train Bleu Tour and taste L’Amourette on our Cathar Castles & Roussillon Tour.
So liven up your pallet and tantalise your taste buds and go in search of 50 shades of gris, I can promise you won’t be disappointed.