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Strength and Finesse in a California Pinot Gris

Want a chardonnay alternative? J Vineyards Pinot Gris is a terrific, and well-priced, example of a delicious, full, and assertive white wine

This week and last week, I am highlighting two wines made from that all too often overlooked grape: pinot gris.

Its original home is Alsace, a region of France that shares a border with Germany, but unlike many European varietals, it seems to do equally well in the new world, as the J Vineyards Pinot Gris ($20) well demonstrates.

One of the reasons I find the varietal so pleasing is the intriguing contradiction it displays. Its seemingly feminine elegance is balanced by its far from obvious but nonetheless very real strength. Well, both characteristics are on display in each of these versions. It’s just that the balance is tipped toward finesse in the Alsatian Albrecht and toward assertiveness in the J version.

The latter is fuller in the mouth, a little less elegant, but in turn it shows an abundance of voluptuous tropical fruit flavors followed by a more robust, mineral-infused finish. When you compare it with so many syrupy, fruit-free California chardonnays at twice the price, you realize what tremendous value pinot gris represents.

A word of warning: In their wisdom, the powers that be at J decided to change the label of this wine from the 2007 vintage to the 2008, and it's not a minor tweaking. The whole look of the bottle is radically different. So, if you go looking for the familiar green bottle with the dramatic yellow J, don’t be surprised if you can’t find it. Look instead for the more traditional bottle shown here. I know, I know—this might seem like a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot decision, a New Coke moment of let’s-confuse-the-customer re-branding, but all that aside, I urge you to stay with these folks because the wine really is delicious.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Meaty fish, such as swordfish or salmon, chicken, lighter Asian food

Grapes: 100% pinot gris

Appellation: Russian River Valley

Region: California

Country: U.S.

Price: $20

Availability: Moderate

Web Site:

See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the "Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week" column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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