Yesterday, I scratched the surface of the three aroma and flavor categories found in wine. Since we’re moving from Pinot Noir to one of its several mutant genetic variations — Pinot Grigio — I wanted to turn the discussion to the types of fruit flavors found in white wines.
Consider the process of fruit’s growth to maturity. You definitely don’t want to pick before they’re ready; on the one hand, ew, but on the other, you could kinda sorta maybe get sick so I guess probably don’t do it?
With grapes, if you pick too early, the berries will taste incredibly tart and rather unpleasant. If you let them hang out a bit longer, and then a little longer still, that tartness gives way to delicate sweetness. Finding the right balance between acidity and sugar levels (known as brix) for a prime harvest is a key struggle each year for winemakers because once grapes are picked, ripening immediately halts.
The flavors of a grape can also shift along a fairly well-defined spectrum the longer Peter Piper waits to pick… so to speak… but how much those flavors shift can depend on a variety of factors, including how much sunlight and warmth grapes received, how much rain or water they had access to across the growing season, as well as the general climate of the vineyard from budbreak to véraison to harvest.
This is on its own a potential rabbit-hole of a topic, so for everyone’s sake I’ll stop there and move on to that flavor spectrum. If you want to know more about viticulture or other topics, let me know in the comments.
Note: while this spectrum also refers to aromas, for the sake of expediency I’ll simply refer to them as flavors.
With white wine, one side of the scale is what I consider to be “cooler” flavors, crisper and sharper. At this end you’ll find citrus fruits like lemon, lime and sometimes grapefruit. If you’re particularly discerning, you can also find nuanced differences between those basics — key lime versus regular lime, mandarin as opposed to blood orange, Meyer lemon contrasted with bitter lemon peel.
Does this seem daunting to you? It was for me, too.
Some of the best advice I received for improving aroma and flavor detection involved going to the produce section of the grocery store and just smelling everything. Since the appearance of COVID, I can’t exactly pick up and sniff all the things without looking like a weirdo (which I don’t care about) and seeming suspiciously unsafe with regards to health (which I care more about).
Thus, if you can afford it, maybe buy a couple of small fruits each week that you can incorporate into a meal, but take the time to smell them — the rind, the juice, the flesh. How does it change when it’s fresh versus a day old? Dried? Baked into a pie? How does it all taste in its various forms?
Now, we’ve established that one end of the spectrum — the “cool” end — covers citrus fruits. Trundle a bit to the right, we hit tree fruits. Apple and pear are the most common and easily recognized; then again, differentiating between green and yellow apple (as one example) takes it a step further.
Another step to the right — and no, this isn’t the Time Warp; no pelvic thrusts, if you please — and we nearly trip over stone fruit with nectarine and peach, and just beyond that is melon and lychee. At the far end you’ll bask in the balmy, “warm” tropical fruits: pineapple, passion fruit, guava, mango, even banana in some cases.
Wild, right? Some white wines only sit on a particular point of the flavor spectrum, while others span a distance across it. Both can prove exemplary examples of a grape’s expression — in the end, what matters most falls to
(1) whether you like it, and
(2) how you pair it with food —
— but always refer back to #1 when in doubt.
Week 11 Challenge Wine:
Terra Alpina Pinot Grigio, 2019
Producer: Alois Lageder
Region: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Style: Dry white
Grape: Pinot Grigio
Clear, pale straw. There’s also a silvery hint to the color.
Clean, with medium plus aromas of lemon, lime, apple and pear. I can also detect wet stones (flint, maybe?), white flowers, and dried herbs. Because it’s so fruit-driven and with only primary aromas, it’s a simple wine.
(Simple isn’t a bad thing, by the way.)
Again, we’re looking at a simple wine that’s highly fruit-driven, but the flavors remain crisp and fresh. Lime zest and lemon, green apple and pear, zippy dried herbs (I’ve gotta work on better identification of those) appear in crystal-clear, medium plus intensity. Flavors resolve into tangy acidity in a medium-minus finish.
The wine is dry, with medium acidity, medium minus alcohol and medium body.
This is definitely a wine for rustic fare; too many complex spices or flavors in food will send it spiraling into the background. I’ve tried the Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco before and had great success pairing it with fish, potatoes and asparagus; the Pinot Grigio would do just as well in that situation, though the acidity is a bit higher.
As a simple wine, it has great flavor but lacks complexity as well as a lingering finish. However, the medium-plus intensity of both aromas and flavors does it credit, making it friendly for sipping without bothering with a food pairing at all if need be.
Altogether, this wine rates at an “acceptable” level, but more like “acceptable+” just because of how friendly and fresh it is on both nose and palate. At $12 a bottle, it’s hard to go wrong with this clean-tasting Pinot Grigio when compared to higher price points which don’t typically offer that much more in terms of flavor or even complexity.
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