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May 16, 2021

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Melon happy Pinot Gris wines

WHEN the summer heat starts hitting Shanghai many people turn to the delicious cooling qualities of melons.

Many types of melons are popular in China but during the summer heat watermelons are king. Revelers of watermelons today are hardly the first to discover the cooling magic of this fruit.

The first cultivated watermelons appeared in southern Africa approximately 5,000 years ago. Prior to this the many wild variants provided sustenance to local inhabitants.

Picking and consuming early renditions of watermelons was a crapshoot. Some were sweet and refreshing while others were tart and bitter. Gradually, the cultivation of watermelons focused on sweeter varieties and spread to northern Africa, the Middle East, India and to China.

Today, China is the largest producer and consumer of watermelons. There exists one variety of wine that is known for melon-like aromas and flavors and sometimes even exhibits hints of watermelon. This proud grape is part of the legendary Pinot family.

The father of the Pinot family is the noble French red variety Pinot Noir, while the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are genetic mutation descendants.

Genetically they are so closely related that only a single gene mutation of the outer skin differentiates the Pinot relatives.

The ancestral home of the Pinot family is believed to be Burgundy where the earliest records of Pinot Noir being cultivated date back to AD 100.

In truth, the earliest decedents of the Pinot family may have been first cultivated anywhere in Europe or perhaps the Near East.

Pinot Gris as a distinct variety first appeared in Burgundy during the 13th century. By the 14 century the Pinot Gris was also well established in nearby French, Swiss, German and Italian regions. Pinot Gris thrived in Burgundy, Champagne and neighboring regions as a favored single variety and blending grape.

It is interesting to note that during the 18th century the variety comprised approximately 20 percent of Domaine Romanee Conti red wines.

Many of Burgundy’s best wines had strong contributions of Pinot Gris. Everything changed after the virulent phylloxera outbreak in the late 18th century.

The Pinot Gris vines in Burgundy and Champagne did not take well to hybrid grafting to the pest resistant American rootstock.

Because of this and the general finicky nature of Pinot Gris, in Burgundy and other important regions the variety was gradually phased out and replanted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines.

However not all was gloom and doom for this variety, in the cooler climates of another French wine region.


Pinot Gris grafted vines found a new home the French region of Alsace. Located in northeastern France, Alsace is most famous for Choucroute garnie, a hearty dish that combines sauerkraut with onions, wine, spices and various cuts of pork, including ham hocks, salted bacon, smoked bacon and sausages. Other delicacies include pungent Muenster cheese, quiche, apple tarts and white wines.

The Romans first brought vines to Alsace about 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries the wine industry of the region vacillated between prosperity and despair due to wars, politics and diseases. In modern time, wars between France and Germany meant that Alsace was alternately a small French wine region or a large German wine region.

After World War Two the region was returned to France and relative stability. Despite making some of the world’s greatest wines, Alsatian wines have never achieved the commercial success or acclaim of other French regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy.

The Alsace region is an elongated region measuring 185 kilometers north to south and 40 kilometers east to west. The best vineyards are all located on the lower sloping hills of the Vosges Mountains that have southeastern aspects.

The Vosges play a vital role in the region providing a rain shadow effect that leads to low rainfall and prevailing westerly winds. The glacial activity that created the mountains resulted in diverse soil types including sandstone, granite, volcanic rock, limestone and marlstone.

The region has three major appellations, namely, Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru for still white wines, and Cremant d’Alsace for sparkling wines.

The Grand Cru wines are produced from one of 51 of the most highly rated vineyards that run up and down the length of the region. Wine styles range from bone dry to hedonistically sweet with both styles often featuring melon-like sensations. The dry wines can be quite age-worthy developing nicely for two or more decades. The sweet Selection de Grains Nobles can be cellared even longer.

Alsace is the land of white wines which account for 90 percent of production. The limited red wine production is mostly Pinot Noir. Alsatian Pinot Gris, the third most planted variety after Riesling and Gewurztraminer, are typically intense, powerful and concentrated wines with intriguing spicy notes and a weighty, oily unctuous texture.

Alsatian domains making top Pinot Gris wines include Hugel & Fils, Weinbach, Zind Humbrecht, Trimbach and Martin Schaetzel. The best examples of Alsatian Pinot Gris wines should be served well-chilled or about 8 degrees Celsius.


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