Oregon's Rising Star

Pinot Gris

Oregon's Willamette Valley has discovered its "perfect" white-wine grape. You might even say that Oregon is undergoing a white-wine revolution. And ? unlike many California winemakers who call the grape by its Italian name, Pinot Grigio ? Oregon vintners have decided, with good reason, to call their delicious wines by the French moniker Pinot Gris (pronounced gree).

Why the name game? Essentially, it's a matter of style and climate. Grapes basking in Italy's warm hillside vineyards are harvested relatively early and the resulting wines, called Pinot Grigio, are light to medium-bodied with a good bit of lemony acidity. In France, the very same grape grown in the cooler temperatures of the Alsace region must spend more time ripening on the vine. This extra hang time creates fuller-bodied wines with spicy, concentrated flavors that the French call Pinot Gris.

Bearing climate in mind, it's clear why Oregon vintners decided to call their wines Pinot Gris: The region's cooler temperatures are perfectly suited to sway the grape in the French style. Not as concentrated as their Alsatian mentors, the Oregon Pinot Gris are medium-bodied with lots of snappy apple-pear fruit. Best of all, they tend to take on a slightly creamy yet crisp character, making them a perfect partner for almost any type of food.

Whether you enjoy the grape as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, one thing is sure: This chameleonlike variety that has been wooing European palates for centuries is creating quite a stir in Oregon.

Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by Ed Thompkins, corporate wine buyer for Heinen's, and James Bell, owner of Three Birds Restaurant in Lakewood, in selecting wines for this month's Cellar Notes.

2002 Sokol Blosser ($15.99) Medium-bodied with soft notes of melon and lots of lemony acid that dances on your palate. The wine requires food (try something from the sea) to tame its lip-smacking acidity. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you'll love this wine.

2002 A to Z Wineworks ($12.99) Exotic, tropical fruit with hints of white cherry best describe this deliciously balanced, medium-bodied wine. Creamy texture and crisp acidity make this wine a real crowd pleaser and a good value in an Oregon-style Pinot Gris.

2001 King Estate ($14.99): Medium-plus body with layers of mineral, ripe pear, honey and spice that unfold in the glass. The complex flavors, bright acidity and creamy texture make this a yummy wine to taste on its own or to pair with food.

Wines of Note:

2002 Chehalem ($16.99) Rich and creamy with lots of up-front fruit and a bit of litchi and spice. This medium-bodied wine's bright, fresh acidity is not felt on the palate as much 's its monster alcohol (14.6 percent). 2002 Duck Pond ($11.99) Lighter in body with soft peach and citrus flavors ? a little more like a quality Pinot Grigio than a Pinot Gris, but a great value.

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