@ Pinot Gris
09 Thirty Bench P. Gris: Pear, peach, floral notes & interesting use of oak but it still hasn’t managed to turn me on to PG #30dayslocal
There it was. A simple tweet typed out and sent in seconds to no one in particular, just one among the hundreds of thousands that appear on the infinite timeline of the social media network.
Michael Di Caro, @mikedicaro on Twitter, was lamenting that he hadn’t met a Pinot Gris from Niagara (or anywhere, for that matter) that he totally fell in love with. It just wasn’t his kind of wine. The response from the “Twitterverse” was instantaneous.
There was @Wine_Discovery and @spotlightcity along with @RichieWine and @writersblanc and dozens of others who bombarded Twitter with incredulous banter to @mikedicaro. He was assailed from all the corners of the globe, and it wasn’t long before a challenge was issued. Let’s find some Pinot Gris that will change the mind and taste buds of @mikedicaro and, not only that, let’s taste them side by side, together with like-minded “Tweeps” in a “Twasting” of some of the finest examples we could find from Niagara.
For those of you out there not familiar with Twitter, the language revolves around the brand name. People (peeps) become Tweeps. Tasting becomes Twasting. Universe becomes Twitterverse. A meeting becomes a Tweetup. And so on. When in doubt, add a “tw”.
Mike’s simple tweet had become a lightning rod for others to join in the conversation. For days following the original musing, ideas were tossed about in the Twitter timeline and a cyber-plan was put in place. We would round up the best of the best Pinot Gris in Niagara for a tasting. @wineguy2005, aka Mark Moffatt, general manager of a trendy downtown Toronto hot spot, offered up Crush for the tasting.
It didn’t end in Niagara. Sandra Oldfield, @sandraoldfield on Twitter and winemaker at Tinhorn Creek in the Okanagan Valley, BC, had been following the banter and wanted in. She quickly put together a package of BC Pinot Gris and sent it east to be part of the tasting.
A date was set, invites sent out and the wines — which were either donated, brought from the cellars of the tasters or purchased for the event — were collected and sorted. There were no limits placed on what to bring. When we finally gathered, about 14 of us, there were 12 wines from Niagara, three from the Okanagan and two from Alsace.
The idea was to taste through the wines and tweet about it using a “hashtag” (#TasteGris) designed to help people follow the tasting on Twitter. We had posted on Twitter our exact time for the tasting and what we were drinking so those who were interested could taste along and post their own comments.
The tasters were a varied lot with only one thing in common — everyone loved wine and used Twitter to further their knowledge and share thoughts. Our tasting started off with a short debate on the difference between the more popular Pinot Grigio and what we were tasting, Pinot Gris.
The whole notion of one Pinot vs another is merely stylistic. Pinot Gris, a style popularized in Alsace, France, is generally a more interesting wine with weight, often a touch of residual sugar and varying degrees of oak fermentation and aging (the oak aging is not part of Alsace wine making, more a New World style). Pinot Grigio is lighter and fruitier, made for backyard sipping on a hot summer’s day, popularized by Italian wine makers.
But it is exactly the same grape, so it can be confusing for consumers who just don’t know what they’re getting into when they go shopping for one or the other. Pinot Gris is not exactly a widespread product in Niagara — only 900 tonnes of it was picked in 2009, down from 1,200 tonnes the year before. Compare that to Chardonnay, 6,300 tonnes, and Riesling, 5,400 tonnes, and you get the picture — it’s niche market where only a few dare to go.
But those who have taken the challenge are making some pretty stellar wines. Rich, textured, bold and interesting wines that go beyond your average bottle of white. Richie Roberts, winemaker at Fielding Estate Winery in Niagara, makes one of the finest Canadian examples of this grape, the Fielding Rock Pile, and has a soft spot for Pinot Gris. Roberts explained at the tasting that the grape grows quite well in Niagara but can be difficult if you don’t pay attention to it.
“It’s a lot like Pinot Noir. It’s very finicky. It starts to break down fairly early so it’s difficult to hang it late,” he said. But getting it right has paid off for Fielding, which makes both the amazing Rock Pile and a regular cuvée.
Our Twitter tasting took us through all the styles — from dry and zesty to lush and sweet, from the benchmark style of Alsace to the super rich late harvest Creekside Pinot Gris. The tweets generated by the tasting gave a broad view of what was generally liked by the group — Fielding Estate Rock Pile, Thirty Bench Small Lot, Five Rows Craft Wine, Stoney Ridge Excellence from Niagara, with a nod to the Okanagan examples and, of course, the thrilling Zind Humbrecht from Alsace.
But the big question, and the reason we had gone to all this bother, was this: What did @mikedicaro think? Was he a new believer in this wonderful grape?
We’ll let Mike have the final word. In a followup post on his blog, trillyum.blogspot.com, he wrote:
“I’m glad I wrote the initial tweet which inspired the whole #TasteGris event, if for no other reason than it brought friends beyond the virtual community of Twitter into one room where we could share, discuss and taste together. There were some very good wines, but more importantly there was a breadth of flavours and styles that prove it would be foolish to outright dismiss the grape entirely.”
All wines are from Niagara unless stated otherwise
93 Fielding Estate Rock Pile Pinot Gris 2009 ($26)
Ripe Bosc pear, apple and creamy-spicy notes on the nose. It’s a big and delicious, slightly off-dry Gris that invigorates the palate with apple, melon, pear and cream notes all supported by juicy acidity.
92 and 91 Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Gris 2007 and 2009 ($30)
Nice to try a slightly aged Pinot Gris beside the fresher version. I scored the 07 slightly higher than 09; it just had such perfect weight and balance. Both wines have lovely pear, apple, melon, toast and vanilla notes with wonderful mouth feel and texture. Pure elegance.
91 Five Rows Craft Wine Pinot Gris 2008 ($25)
Small production wine and typical of the best Gris being made in Niagara — tropical, apple, pear and honey notes that show some structure on the palate, and a promise of aging beautifully.
90 Stoney Ridge Excellence Pinot Gris 2009 ($23)
Such a gorgeous nose of melon, sweet citrus and apple crisp in a ripe and full-bodied style. More acid than some others we tried.
90 Creekside Pinot Gris Reserve 2007 ($25)
A weighty Gris with apple-custard notes to go with melon, moderate acidity and a honey-kissed finish.
89 Creekside Select Late Harvest Pinot Gris 2007 ($24 for 375 ml)
Super fine nose of sweet peach, apple and apricot with wild honey, and a wonderful oily-viscous feel on the palate.
87 Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Pinot Gris 2009 ($19)
An interesting PG that is partially barrel-fermented and finished with a touch of sweetness. The nose shows fresh-cut apple, peach and tropical fruits to go with subtle spice. In the mouth the fruit gets a lift from a touch of honey and spice.
88 Fielding Estate Pinot Gris 2009 ($19)
Melon, pear, lime and honey aromas. Honey sweet on the palate with a mélange of fleshy fruit flavours and juicy acidity.
86 Hillebrand Artist Series Limited Edition Pinot Gris 2008 ($19)
Another PG finished with a healthy dose of residual sugar. Rich aromas of apple and peach fruits and a whiff of vanilla and spice. It’s packed with flavour in the mouth in a round, fleshy style.
87 Riverview Pinot Grigio 2009 ($15)
Lovely melon, pear, apple and honey notes on the nose. Almost mead-like in the mouth with apple pie, pear, spice and floral flavours.
88 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2009, Okanagan ($17)
A pretty and floral nose with apple and melon notes. It’s clean and fresh on the palate with crisp apple and lovely citrus zest on the finish.
87 8th Generation Vineyard Pinot Gris 2009, Okanagan ($20)
Partially barrel fermented with notes of apple, pineapple, vanilla and spice. It’s fleshy in the mouth with lush fruit flavours and a touch of minerality.
88 Wild Goose Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009, Okanagan ($26)
Done in an off-dry style with sweet McIntosh apple, peach, citrus and honey notes on the nose. It’s quite sweet in the mouth with the lush fruit flavours balanced by racy acidity.
95 Zind Humbrecht Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru Tokay Pinot Gris 1992, Alsace (from magnum, $100 plus)
This is where Niagara could be headed, but Alsace has about a 400-year head start of growing this variety in France. Such amazing poached pear, lanolin, caramel and integrated wild honey and spice. A blockbuster!
quick how-to for throwing a twitter wine twasting:
Generate interest on Twitter for a specific variety, vintage or style of wine. Try to find something that is accessible for as many people as possible, such as Niagara Chardonnay, or 2007 Niagara reds, or BC Riesling vs Ontario Riesling, or 2006 Bordeaux. Once you have a theme, generate a hashtag as soon as possible and start using it. For example, #NiaChard for Niagara Chardonnays. Use this hashtag so others can click on it and follow the conversation from beginning to end. Pick a date, a time (make sure to add EST for those in different time zones) and a location if some of your tasters want to gather in one spot. Establish a time limit (an hour is about right). Prior to the Twasting, list a selection of wines (on a blog or website) your core group will be tasting so those tasting at home can join in. Choose a moderator who can open discussion, introduce new wines being tasted and encourage discussion. Twitter Tastings are extremely intense, with comments coming fast and furious. An application such as TweetDeck allows tasters to concentrate solely on the Twasting by creating a column using the hashtag. It’s highly recommended. Wrap it up. The moderator should make it clear when the formal part of the event is over. Follow up with comments about more detailed notes being posted to blogs or websites.