Saturday, July 16, 2011

White from Red grapes and Rose from "Gris" grapes that were always vinified in white, a new trend?

White from Red grapes and Rose from "Gris" grapes that were always vinified in white, a new trend?

In one of my recent posts, I was describing a Pinot Noir Bianco from the Vallee d’Aoste, and was asking you to mark my words on it, as it will become a trend very soon to produce and drink white wines made out of red grape varieties. Today, I feel the need to write a post to elaborate that concept and tell you why it will become a new trend.

You’ve tried many Pinot Noir Red and Rose wines, and surely many Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio white wines too. But did you ever taste a Pinot Noir white or a Pinot Grigio Rose? No?

And don’t get me wrong, but I’m not talking about the kind of pink sweet wines that made Californian “White Zinfandel", "white Merlot" or "white Cabernet Sauvignon” famous 20 years ago. No, I’m talking about the good stuff.

If you didn’t, it is not surprising, because they are not too many of these kinds of wine on the market yet.  But I can assure you that it is a new thing that just started but should spread out really rapidly within the next few vintages. More especially, if we consider climate changes, global warming and other weather discrepancies like those we have been experiencing over the last 10-15 years, white wines made out red grapes and rose wines made out of grapes with geyish-pinkish skin color but were always vinified as white, will definitely prevail over red wines. In fact, you can see it in the sales (retails and restaurants), white and rose wines are definitely more in favor than they were 5-10 years ago.

However, within the last 60 years of winemaking on earth, many experiences and trends occurred; some lasted, some disappeared, some evolved with ups and downs but for the better and rarely for the worst (fortunately for us).
  • In the 50s and the 60s, wines were very tannic and acid and needed time to develop and open up, chemicals were good and helpful and smocking was healthy then.
  • In the 60s-70s, wine was overproduced to keep-up with the demand of a growing world population that went from 2 billions people in the 20s to 4,5 billions in the 60s as a result of the children of the Baby Boom born just after WWII; machines and tractors replaced human workers in the vineyards and chemicals were still used in profusion; productivity overruled quality.  
  • In the 70s-80s, heavy toasted new oak barrel ageing became an institution and more especially in the 80s everything needed to be oaky; the American influence from critics like Robert Parker Jr. and magazine like the Wine Spectator on how the European, more especially on how the French wines should taste to be sold to the US market, triggered major changes and established new factors in winemaking understanding and process. As an opportunist market, Bordeaux led the way from the beginning and took great advantage of the American points systems, which brought them to where they are now, except that the US are not buying the classified growth anymore, but the Chinese are.     
  • In the 80s-90s, the green movement with sustainable, lutte raisonnee and organic practices became more obvious and more relevant, fewer chemicals were used and social consciousness towards a greener life awaken. Oak was still important with the Garagist, but only the wealthiest wineries and producers could really afford new oak, the other continue to follow the way they could.  
  • In the 90s-2000s, the biodynamic movement initiated by the studies and books of Rudolf Steiner written back in the 20s-30s (amongst a few doctors and professors who had great interest on the subject at that time), ignited the greener practices winemaking revolution that we are experiencing today.
  • 2000s-2010s, the world experienced (and continues to experience) the worst financial crisis ever and the bloodiest terrorist attacks in many countries; wine-wise, classified Growth Bordeaux broke price records for nearly each vintage, multiplying their by 8-9 times in 10 years: a 1st growth Bordeaux 2000 vintage was going for about $125-$150 "En Primeur"in NYC, about $300+ for 2003 and roughly $500+ for 2005, and 10 years later due to the excessive demand from the emerging countries, the same Chateau was offer between $875-$950 En Primeur for the 2009 vintage and the 2010 went even higher...  
  • 2010-2011, the wines under $20, and more especially under $15 are the main target, anything above $30 doesn't move anymore, people are still very cautious on how to spend their money and want great value for money. Importer and distributors reshape their portfolio. Retails and restaurants build up their wine-list with better wines at lower prices. And producers try to new grounds and test the market with new products (i.e. whites made out of red grapes for example). Re-apparition of independent distillers and winemakers, everybody wants to give it a try and everybody thinks that it is very lucrative. Bad news, the market is overcrowded and overflowed, yet business continues and we will see what happen later on. 

In terms of vinification techniques too, we tried pretty much everything in every forms and shapes: amphorae, ceramic, glass, oak barrels, wooden vats, glass lined or epoxy or bare cement tanks, all sort of stainless steel and fiberglass tanks and vats, and lately we are even back to putting wine back into amphoraes and other containers and ageing them in the sea or the ocean.

And much more questions for each vintage: Green harvest? De-leafing? Early pruning? Vendange en vert? Parcel selection? Sorting table? Ripeness or crispiness? Acidity? Tannins? Earthiness? Smoothness? Racking or no racking? “sur lie” or no lees? Malolactic or no Malo? Filtered or unfiltered? Fine or unfined? Egg’s white or bentonite? Heavy, medium or lightly toasted barrels? Used or new barrels? Barrel or Stainless steel? Clear or dark bottle? Fancy or trendy or classic or designed label? Plastic or wood or glass cork? Etc…

In the wine world, the trade (including wineries, producers, brokers, importers, distributors, retailers, etc...) tried pretty much everything that could be tried and done, but it is never enough. In this fast paced life that we live in, dictated by efficiency, productivity, profit and design, and always going forward, pushing back the limits of our imagination to always create something new and always change the trend to keep people attention and interest, in order to increase sales and profit and incite people consumption and consummation, we had to come up with something new.

And the new trend for me, as far as I can see and taste, given the little signs here and there during tastings over the last few months, will surely be very soon, if not already: whites made out of red grapes and rose made out “Gris” grapes that were always vinified white.

What is “Gris” means? "Gris"refers to the greyish-pinkish skin color of the grape. It indicates that the grape skin, which contain the anthocyanins, polyphenols and other pigment chemicals responsible for the varying shade of the skin color, is neither usually in the yellow spectrum for white or usually in the red-dark blue spectrum for the red, but somewhere in between.

In France, usually, when a wine boasts a slightly pinkish color for a white, it is often called “Gris”; however, this pinkish color, or hue depending on the intensity, is generally occurring because the skin of the used grape isn’t really white, but slightly pigmented or lightly colored, giving a grey-blue-pinkish color to the grape. The word "Gris" is then sometimes added to the name of the grape to differentiate it from its sibling, like: Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Gris, Frontenac Gris, Moschofilero, etc.. those are grapes that are pinkish, but yet they are all mostly vinified as white.

Take the Pinot Gris grape for example, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio wines are usually white, but the skin color of the grapes is grayish-pinkish, not white or yellow as most people will figure, especially when talking about a wine that all people refers as white. See the picture of a Pinot Gris grape above to better understand what I'm trying to say. As you can now understand, which must be weird for those of you that didn't know, Pinot Gris is a white wine made out of pinkish grapes (Pictures courtesy of

However, I think that from now on, we will see more of this “Gris” wines in the Rose color, and both will be available, the white and the pink version. For example, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are usually vinified without the skin and are in most people mind, white. And that is because, like for any whites, the grapes are gently pressed to avoid skin contact, fermented without the skin and the resulting pressed and fermented juice is white. Now think that if the same grape variety was fermented with its skin, like for a red, then the resulting Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio will be pink or reddish (see example below).

As for the whites crafted out of red grape varieties, mark my words, they will be very common and trendy within the next few vintages. It has already started. The other day I tasted a white that was made out of 2 usual white grape varieties combined with Merlot; yes, Merlot! Amongst other red grapes vinified in white, Merlot or Pinot Noir are sometimes blended with other white grapes to add structure and texture and weight (to a certain extend).

I know it is weird somehow, but these wines are pretty good. Making white wines out red grapes is a winemaking method that is up-and-coming and will rapidly evolve as it open the door to countless possibilities and combinations, and will surely inspire a new trend among the new winemakers who want to distinguish themselves from the pack and consumers in search of something new and different.    

But enough talking, here are two really good examples that I discovered and bought recently. I highly recommend them, as they are deliciously crisp, light, refreshing and summery.

2009 La Crotta di Vegneron Pinot Noir Bianco Vallée d’Aoste Italy
Suggested retail price $14-$17
Imported / distributed by Polaner in NYC

If the 2009 La Crotta di Vegneron Pinot Noir Bianco adorns this very attractive, super-light-onion-skin meet orange-melon-pinkish hue, it is because it was crafted with 100% Pinot Noir grapes vinified off the skins, like a white, hence the slightly pink intriguing color. Technically it is a white, not a rose, despite the appearance. The nose is rather light, fresh, and mineral with a touch of cherry. The palate is also really light, crisp, racy, with lot of minerality, zesty acidity and very enjoyable texture, yet it may appear non-descript for some, but I really like it.

Like most wines from the Vallée d’Aoste, this wine combines elegance, refinement, and freshness in a focused palate, enhanced by the characteristic searing acidity, minerality and quality of the fruit. One day if I can, I think I will retire in the Vallée d’Aoste, this peaceful and undisturbed haven of peace north of Piedmont seems to have seduced my taste buds to the point that only a few other wine regions in the world can.

The second one is the best example of Pinot Grigio Rose that I have personally tasted yet.

2010 Azienda Agricola Calatroni Pinot Grigio Rose Provincia di Pavia Oltro Pavese Lombardia Italy
Suggested retail price $10-$13
Imported / distributed by Vignaioli Selection in NYC

Nestled in the hills of the Versa valley, the Calatroni estate rests in the village of Montevalco Versiggia, in the heart of the Oltrepo’ Pavese region (Lombardi, central northern Italy).

This family run estate is dedicated to cultivating their 37 acres of vineyards following tradition and experience. They grow grapes typical of the area, including Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero, striving to produce both refreshing white wines and highly enjoyable reds. The vines are grown with respect for nature, trying to maintain the integrity and rusticity of the plants. The estate also has a strong interest in renewable energy.

The wine is made out of 100% Pinot Grigio from 7.4 acres of vines planted at 500 meters (asl) on partly calcareous soil and south, southwest exposure.  The grapes are harvested at the end of August/early September from 15 year old vines. The entire cluster is used in the vinification. The grapes are transferred to tanks, where maceration takes place at a temperature between 50-60°. After a soft pressing, the must has an intense pink color, which then becomes the softer pink typical of a pinot grigio rosè. Fermentation takes places for 25-35 days at a temperature of 57-61°. The wine is refermented: the residual sugars from the first fermentation are utilized to make this a ‘vivace’ (sparkling) wine. 1,500 cases produced.

Light copper, fuchsia color of medium intensity. The nose is fresh, delicate and elegant with wild flowers and violets, light touch of wild red berries and hints of yeast (surely due to the re-fermentation and accentuated by the fizziness).  Soft and friendly, the palate is light, crisp and refreshing, gently airy due to the tiny bubbles “pearling” on the tongue and somewhat intriguing but in a very good way. The finish possesses delicate wild berries flavors with floral and mineral notes. I love it and I can drink a lot of that staff. I keep promoting it because I think that it will change the mind of people that see Pinot Grigio, as a boring cheap wine.

The effervescence makes this wine extremely pleasant and refreshing, excellent as an aperitif, wonderful with fish, in particular clams and crustaceans, finger foods, and soft, fresh cheese. Every time I opened a bottle in the store, I was pleased to see the positive reaction and the pleasurable expression on the face of my customers telling me: "It is great, different, but good, light, crisp and slight fizzy!".

One could think that it was a promoting stunt on my part to advertise and sell a bad wine, but on the contrary, like for all the wine that I buy for the store, I bought it because I loved it; because I knew that it will trigger some interest; and because once again, I proved that in the world of wine, never say that you do not like this type of wine or this type of grape variety, because you may always be surprised by a wine that you thought you will not like.

In conclusion, I will say that if all the whites made out of red grapes and the "Gris" grapes usually vinified in white but produced in red, taste that great, no wonder it will rapidly become a trend. It is my opinion, but you'll see.


LeDom du Vin

Info and label for Calatroni Pinot Grigio partly taken and edited courtesy of the importer website at and you can also visit the winery website at

Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic, Biologique and Organic wines and spirits and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe! Also follow projects and products from the Fair Trade, an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability. Also support 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that donate at least 1% of their annual revenues to environmental organizations worldwide. "Commerce Equitable" or "Fair Trade" is evidently and more than ever a needed movement connecting producers and customers, to be aware of others and their cultural and traditional products based on high quality, natural components and craftsmanship.


  1. Thank you.Some research studies suggest that red and purple grape juices may provide some of the same heart benefits of red wine, including: Reducing the risk of blood clots. Reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol. Preventing damage to blood vessels in your heart.
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