Here comes a baker’s dozen of gris-gris for the sunny days ahead—selected Pinot Gris, all but two from British Columbia wine regions.
If you’re old enough to cast your mind back to the early days of 1968, you might recall the great Dr. John’s debut album, Gris Gris, a curious jambalaya of New Orleans R&B and psychedelic rock. It had a disappointing start on vinyl; later, reissued on CD, it received the acclaim it deserved, ending up on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, at number 143.
A gris-gris is a voodoo amulet meant to bring luck. In the case of this batch of wines, luck had little to do with it; good winemaking did. We’ll look at the wines in ascending order of price, beginning with one of the non–B.C. ones.
Lurton Pinot Gris 2009 ($13.99)
The only so-labelled Argentine Pinot Gris in the LDB system is this specialty listing, an odd-tasting PG that no one in the group I tasted it with was able to identify as such without looking at the label. Quite solid but a little shy of fruit; certainly the price is right.
Herder Pinot Gris 2009 ($16.90)
This Keremeos winery has a major contender here, easily the best buy in the bunch. Rich and mellow, creamy and full—it doesn’t get much better, PG—wise, in B.C. Lucky for us they produced 2,700 bottles; still, it won’t last much beyond the beginning of summer. Take the van up to the Similkameen Valley.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2009 ($16.99)
If you’ve got enough space in the truck, keep right on going to the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile, and load up on this one too. It's quite a bit different from the Herder—crisp and citric and assertive, with tart but ripe fruit. Think grilled fish with olive oil and fresh herbs.
Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2009 ($17.90)
Just released by the Vancouver Island winery that’s making waves, this is a resoundingly pink PG. They describe it as having a golden/salmon colour; I say it’s Mateus pink. Act quickly to access this head-of-the-class wine, since they only made 220 cases. Very dry and steely, with a long, pear-infused finish, it wants coconut shrimp, curry, sushi, or anything spicy. Also great with the arugula and prosciutto pizza from Nook on Denman Street. (They’ll pack one to go.) Some savvy Vancouver indie wine stores carry it—Village VQA stores, Firefly, Broadway International—and there’s always the winery.
Mistaken Identity Pinot Gris 2008 ($18.90)
From a relatively new winery on Salt Spring Island, a tasty, fresh, slightly grassy PG, almost more like Sauvignon Blanc on initial approach. With plenty of pleasant tart flavours, it's a very good introduction to the label. Google the winery and take it from there.
Dirty Laundry Pinot Gris 2008 ($18.99)
From one of those tongue-in-cheek labels in the Okanagan (the other is Therapy, currently in some corporate turmoil), this wine is fruity, spicy, on the sweetish side, and quite rich. When that all comes together in the glass, the result is deft and fresh, with a rich finish.
Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2008 ($18.99)
One day we’ll have to explore, if not explain, the meaning of “reserve” and similar label designations as they pertain to B.C. wines. This is a handsome wine with soft fruit and a pink hue, from the venerable Westbank winery that has a massive portfolio of varietal wines on several different tiers.
Nichol Vineyard September Ranch Pinot Gris 2009 ($19.90)
This vintage is very pale, almost orange, a bit of a colour-wheel leap from what the French sometimes call oeil de perdrix, or “eye of the partridge” (although in France, this more commonly refers to a rosé). This is a brilliant wine with huge aromas, great acidity, and a mega finish. Although the Nichols, Alex and Kathleen, have departed the winery they founded and moved east, the label and name continue to define B.C. PG as among the very best, albeit unusual.
Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2008 ($19.99)
This comes from one of the large cooperatives in Alsace. It’s emblematic of the consummate Alsatian food wine—one of the trinity, along with Riesling and Gewí¼rztraminer—and brings back fond memories of lovely dinners in the winstuben of my favourite food-and-wine area of the world. Remember the formula for cooking with it: one for the dish, one for the guests, one for the chef.
Blasted Church Pinot Gris 2009 ($19.99)
Just-released vintage of a beautifully balanced PG with excellent acidity and flavourful finesse in the finish. Slate colour and pineapple freshness, with a hint of Viognier (a small amount of which winemaker Richard Kanazawa has blended in) appealingly evident. And some funny new label art. A closer look at other releases here soon.
Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2008 ($20)
From what has long been one of the leading South Okanagan labels, this is a well-made, fresh, and full wine, several vintages of which can be sampled at the winery’s on-site restaurant, one of the valley’s best.
8th Generation Pinot Gris 2008 ($20.90)
All of 606 cases of this vintage came into existence; a luscious, passion-fruit-rich wine with hints of something mineral-y on the back of the tongue. Well worth the quest.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Bateman GTK Series Organic Pinot Noir 2008 ($22.95)
Here’s where we stop the clock, pricewise, for today: a pear-laden, well-balanced PG, certified organic in vineyard and cellar, with artwork by Robert Bateman on the label. They suggest cheese fondue, clam chowder, baked salmon, or roast Cornish hen, and those are all apt recommendations. Or some of that Fraser Valley farmed partridge if you can find it.
So there’s a start. There are probably 30 or 40 more to discover.