Pinot Gris - The Inspiration from Alsace

APOGEE Pinot Gris – Inspired by Alsace


A lot of Pinot Gris is grown in Alsace, France's uber region for lunchtime white wine. I was lucky to spend some time there in 70's, one vintage with Hugel (Riquewihr), the other with Zind-Humbrecht (Wintzenheim), learning to eat and drink as much as how to grow and make wine. The region’s traditional pork and choucroute/sauerkraut dishes, the fresh asparagus and tartes flambée all happen to pair admirably with the white wines from Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. As do the lesser-known components of the local carafe wine (Edelzwicker) made from Sylvaner, Muscat Blanc and Pinot Blanc. All these wines are freshly acidic, aromatic and quaffable unless you stray into the grand crus, which are picked later and are more full-bodied, alcoholic and seriously complex, and disturbingly they are often sweet without notice. 


The classic Alsatian aromatics do not suit all palates or noses because they are, well, overtly aromatic!  The smell is driven by what are called in scientific terms, VOC's (volatile organic compounds). These are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquid and from grape cultivars like Riesling. The families of compounds include monoterpenoids like Linalool, alcohols and curiously a group called Aromatics, which in organic chemistry are compounds with a benzene ring (which is how the whole lot got the name because organic aromatics can all smell, and often like petrol!). The attraction is that wine VOC's are pleasant-smelling. The official descriptor for Linalool is "somewhat resembling French lavender plants, bergamot oil or lily of the valley. It has a light, citrus-like flavour, sweet with a spicy tropical accent".

Wines like Gewurztraminer with its rose, lychee, floral and tropical tones, Riesling with floral and citrus notes and Pinot Gris with pear, musk and rose can be love-hate wines perhaps with Gewurz being at the extremity. It is on the dinner table that they excel especially with those toasty, cheesy dishes mentioned above. 


Apart from growing Pinot Gris on a cool enough site (Apogee's 14.5 ⁰C GST Index is cool for Gris; compares with 14.4⁰C in Geisenheim (Rheingau), quality comes from Apogee Pinot Gris' enormous leaf area due to the high-trimmed (2.2m) Scott Henry leaf canopy on a relatively narrow row spacing (2.2m) giving 22,000 sq m of leaf exposure per hectare.


Other tricks include running mild water stress during autumn and leaf plucking around the fruit to enhance fruit exposure to light. The aroma components of Pinot Gris will be strong in monoterpenes, which are enhanced in concentration by the large leaf area and light on the fruit skin.


The Apogee Alto Pinot Gris style is somewhere between the two styles mentioned above being harvested relatively late to capture more complex flavour but fermented dry with no residual sugar. A perfect spring accompaniment for chilled APOGEE Alto Pinot Gris 2022 is fresh asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, or just a good melted butter.


Andrew Pirie Winemaker

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