It’s become fashionable to shorten the lengthy names of some grape varieties for the sake of brevity. Many folks now refer to Cabernet Sauvignon as “Cab” and Sauvignon Blanc as “Sauv Blanc.” I don’t like it, but I can live with it.
There is a problem, though, with asking your friendly neighborhood wine shop for a good Pinot. There are different kinds: Blanc, Gris, and Noir. Save everyone the awkwardness and say the whole thing.
Not sure which one you want? Here’s what you need to know, using three wines as examples.
The yellow-green-skinned Pinot Blanc also goes by Pinot Bianco if it hails from Italy and tends to be a refreshing, racy white wine. Exceptions can be found, particularly in the French region of Alsace, but, in general, you’ll find it to be like the Hofstätter Joseph Pinot Bianco 2010 ($22, Bacchus Importers Ltd.). Bold lemons, crisp apple, and a hint of almond and stony minerals define this Italian offering from the Alto Adige region. The beauty of this wine is its versatility. It works well with cheeses, but also complements fish. Pasta courses that feature cream sauces or veggies are another great foil for this delicious wine.
Pinkish-gray-skinned Pinot Gris also gets a little name change in Italy to Pinot Grigio, which is how most people know it. Like Pinot Blanc, it can vary in style. Because of the grape’s immense appeal, many producers outside of Italy tend to use Pinot Grigio to define the dry, racy face of the grape, and Pinot Gris if going for a rounder, fatter style. A good example of this expression can be found in Panther Creek Pinot Gris Oregon 2009 ($17, Constantine Wines). Juicy pear and apple flavors abound, and it’s just ever so slightly “off dry.” Richer cheeses, poultry roasts, and cool-weather vegetable dishes are what the wine gravitates toward, but it is also immensely satisfying on its own.
The black-skinned Pinot Noir has enjoyed enormous popularity for years, playing on its charmingly soft texture and versatility. The grape’s ancestral home is in the French region of Burgundy. The burg of Fixin lies at the northern end of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits and has a reputation for producing full-flavored, middleweight Pinot Noir. Such is the case with Domaine Michel Noëllat et Fils Fixin 2009 ($26, Potomac Selections). The wine offers up the cool freshness of wild strawberry and cranberry and the pleasingly fecund aroma of freshly tilled earth. Its silky texture isn’t overly plush, and that makes it a fair mate to anything a little fatty. Filet mignon just might be all you’ll need, unless there’s pan-seared duck breast in your future.