Common mistakes on certain grapes

I think it's time to clear up a few misunderstandings concerning wine lingo and a few misconceptions about grape types and taste sensations. Over the past few months I've made a list of wine ideas that I thought would be good to address. Here we go:

1. Pinot Gris-Pinot Grigio — Many folks think there is a difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. The fact is that these are the same grape varietals.

Pinot Gris is the name largely used by American wine producers and used as well in France. Pinot Grigio is used in Italy and sometimes used by wineries in the United States. In South America I have seen the term Pinot Grigio being used but I have to admit that I do not normally buy this white wine grape from South America.

The "Gris," as it is commonly called, is normally a dry white wine and can be produced in a sweet version with some residual sugar. Gris can also come sparkling but is not seen much in the United States. The vast majority of this white wine is dry and used for those meals where a linear, fresh and thirst-quenching white is asked for.

Look for a wine over 12.5 percent alcohol when you can. This level of alcohol will give you, most likely, a dry version of this lovely white wine. If the wine is over 14 percent alcohol, ask your wine professional if there is enough fruit and acidity to make this wine balanced. What you do not want is a Pinot Grigio with a blow-torch, alcohol-driven aftertaste. Be very aware of alcohol levels in Pinot Gris!

2. Gewerztraminer — This spicy white wine suffers from an identity crisis. Almost everyone who comes into the Wine Cellar thinks that this wine must be sweet. Historically, with some notable exceptions, American winemakers made only sweet versions of this grape. The "traditional" offerings were flabby, high-yield, candy and all-spice versions that had to be served achingly cold or the wines would have been likened to warm peach Kool-Aid!

During the 1970s, dry, very good Gewerztraminer was starting to come into the United States from France. These offerings were complex, clean and spicy with crisp aftertastes. The difference between the American versions and the French wines were completely understood by the wine-drinking population and the dry Gewrztraminers quickly caught on.

Today, because of the French invasion, dry Gewerztraminers are very popular in the United States and are being produced by American winemakers throughout the winegrowing country. Still, there is some education to go with this grape as the feeling that only sweet wines are made from this varietal persists.

3. Riesling — The same problem exists with the noble Riesling grape. Traditionally, American Riesling was almost always sweet and was lumped together with "Sauterne" and "Blanc de Blance" on American tables. To compound the identity crisis with Riesling, there were Rieslings called "Johannesburg," "White," "Grey" and "Old Style," which were names brought over by American vintners before prohibition. All Rieslings were thought of as dessert wines and served polar bear cold and tended to be cloying and honey dew with very little acidity. Some wines were inoculated with acids to chirp up and cleanse the finish, but the resultant wines were metallic in the aftertastes.

Again in the 1970s we saw an explosion of the great German wines of the 1969 and 1971 vintages that displayed great fruit, lovely palate grip and terrific, naturally occurring acids. Also, at this time, we saw dry Rieslings come across the water! All of a sudden we had fruit, tropical flavors and a wine that could be served with cuisine during dinner and not relegated only to dessert. What a concept!

Just as in Gewerz, we are now seeing dry Rieslings being made in America with stunning results!

We'll explore more of these wine types next week. See you then!

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