A Pinot By Any Other Name…

I sucked back the tears, trying my very hardest not to let the stinging disappointment steal my smile. She placed a frosty glass of white wine in front of me and I eeped the best 'thank you' I could muster.

No! Pinot. I asked for the Pinot.

Clearly the simple term "Pinot" is one for epic debate: Does it mean red? Does it mean white? Will the real Pinot please stand up? Well, thanks to my wine-bar machismo – I'll have the Pinot – a Pinot is exactly what I got.

As it turns out, scientifically, red or white, they're essentially the same grape.


Seems we humans struggle with the concept of simplicity: Blanket? Ugh. Too easy. Enter the bedspread, comforter, quilt, throw, afghan, wrap, Snuggie.... need I go on?

Well, seems the same is true for our wine terms. Take, for example, Syrah and Shiraz. Two names for the exact same grape. Meanwhile, Syrah and Petite Sirah are actually not the same variety (though distantly related).

And Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris? Well, the story goes, Pinot Gris (or Grigio if you are Italian, or wish you were) came to be several centuries ago, when some Pinot Noir vines went rogue and decided grayish-pink was a more flattering color (Gris = gray in French).

Of course, mutants are totally awesome, dude, so Pinot Gris was cultivated as a new grape variety. And, unlike it's ruby brethren, it was fermented as a white wine (without the grape skins) resulting in a refreshing and quite popular alternative to Chardonnay.

Funny thing is, after all this time cultivating and cloning Pinot Gris as its own unique grape, its DNA is still almost identical to Pinot Noir. The only real distinct differences are the variation of the skin color and the way they are produced.

In the case of my lunch, however, there was still a slight problem: A light- to medium-bodied white wine with medium-high acidity, expressing lovely green apple or pear notes, was not exactly what I had in mind for my mushroom and brie grilled cheese. But Pinot Gris/Grigio is a great match for seafood and fresh veggies, even fish tacos!

Notes to self: Check that wine-nerdiness next time, Zelezny. And, no sense crying over white wine (especially when it's still quite tasty).

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