Welcome Spring and Summer with Pinot Gris

I recently wrote about Kendall-Jackson’s brand new wine, the Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris from the acclaimed 2014 vintage. When I first tasted it, a few weeks ago, I was absolutely delighted, because after many years of reviewing California wines, including hundreds of Pinot Gris, I’ve learned that you never know what you’re going to get with that variety.

Sometimes Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio) can be as sweet as a fruit juice drink. That means it probably has too much residual sugar in it — the sugar from the grape juice hasn’t been fully turned into alcohol through the miracle of fermentation. This sweetness can be cloying if the wine is deficient in acidity. There’s nothing wrong with a slightly sweet Pinot Gris, only it’s not to my liking. I’m one of those people who thinks a dry wine is more sophisticated than a sweet wine. (There are exceptions: a dessert wine has to be sweet, of course. And many Rieslings are a little off-dry, which balances their intense acidity.)

Another problem that Pinot Gris sometimes has is thinness. It can be watery, lacking the fruitiness you want in a nice California white wine. The reason for this is that some wineries see Pinot Gris as a “commodity wine,” an inexpensive supermarket wine to produce in vast quantities and sell as cheaply as possible. As a result, they “overcrop” the vines — which means they force the growing grapevines to produce as much fruit as they physically can. This dilutes the intensity of the individual grapes and bunches, which in turn makes for watery, boring wines.

The reason I was so delighted when I had the K-J Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris is because it suffered from neither of these problems. Instead, I found it delicious, vibrant, lively, clean, super-drinkable — you can choose any description you want, as long as it’s favorable. But I can’t say I was surprised. After being at Jackson Family Wines for more than a year, I know how great our coastal vineyards are. And I know how talented and diligent our Winemaster, Randy Ullom, and his team are. So it would have been surprising if this new entrant in the K-J portfolio hadn’t been so good.

You can enjoy this super-friendly wine with just about any food imaginable (well, maybe not chocolate ice cream). With summer fast upon us (and let’s face it, it’s been summerlike all winter!), I’m thinking about fried chicken, fruit salad and guacamole and chips. Got some cold oysters? Bring ‘em on! Salúd!

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.