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J. Hofstatter Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2009
Large numbers of winegrowers have abandoned the hillsides for the lower slopes and valley floor where vineyards are far easier and cheaper to tend. We have resisted this temptation in the knowledge that the very finest wines come from sloping and steep vineyards.
Steep vineyards expose the vines to more sunlight, rainwater drains away quickly and the "guyot" trellising method, which restricts the yield per vine, results in finer quality. When my father introduced this training system in 1962 nobody in South Tyrol could believe it.
In spite of this we have not completely abandoned the traditional South Tyrolean pergola system, which works well for local varieties which grow vigorously and need room to expand. Very old pergola-trained vines yield tiny quantities of grapes and can still produce superb quality, as revealed by our Pinot Noir from the Barthenau vineyard at Mazon, and our Gewürztraminer produced in the Kolbenhof estate at Söll above Tramin, both of which come from pergola-trained vines.
A mountainous northern Italian region heavily influenced by German culture, Trentino-Alto Adige is actually made up of two separate but similar regions: Alto Adige and Trentino. Trentino, the southern half, is primarily Italian-speaking and largely responsible for the production of large volumes of wine made from non-native grapes. There is a significant quantity of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio produced here, and Merlot is common as well.
The rugged terrain of German-speaking Alto Adige (also referred to as Südtirol) is more focused on smaller-scale viticulture, and greater value is placed on local varieties, though international varieties are widely planted as well. Sheltered by the Alps from harsh northerly winds, many of the best vineyards are planted at extreme altitude on steep slopes to increase sunlight exposure. Dominant red varieties include the bold, herbaceous Lagrein and delicate, strawberry-kissed Schiava, in addition to some Pinot Nero. The primary white grapes are Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, as well as smaller plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, and others. These tend to be bright and refreshing with crisp acidity and just the right amount of texture. Some of the highest quality Pinot Grigio in Italy is made here.
One grape variety with two very distinct personas, Pinot Gris in France is rich, round, and aromatic, while Pinot Grigio in Italy is simple, crisp, and refreshing. In Italy, Pinot Grigio is grown in the mountainous regions of Trentino, Friuli, and Alto Adige in the northeast. In France it reaches its apex in Alsace. Pinots both “Gris” and “Grigio” are produced successfully in Oregon's Willamette Valley as well as parts of California, and are widely planted throughout central and eastern Europe.
In the Glass
Pinot Gris is naturally low in acidity, so full ripeness is necessary to achieve and showcase its signature flavors and aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, pear, and almond skin. Alsatian styles are aromatic, richly textured and often relatively high in alcohol. As Pinot Grigio in Italy, the style is much more subdued, light, simple, and easy to drink.
Alsace is renowned for its potent food–pork, foie gras, and charcuterie. With its viscous nature, Pinot Gris fits in harmoniously with these heavy hitters. Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, with its lean, crisp, citrusy freshness, works better with simple salads, a wide range of seafood, and subtle chicken dishes.
Outside of France and Italy, the decision by the producer whether to label as “Gris” or “Grigio” serves as a strong indicator as to the style of wine in the bottle—the former will typically be a richer, more serious rendition while the latter will be bright, fresh, and fun.