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[Photograph: Shell Tu]

This week we spent a very pleasant and warm New York evening sitting on a deck snacking on grilled chicken and freshly grilled flatbread while tasting our way through eight bottles of Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio, depending on which country you're from). It's really a great wine for al fresco dining like this. More floral and complex than the Vinho Verde we tried a couple weeks ago, it pairs nicely with food, but is still refreshing and crisp enough to cool you down on a hot summer night.

As a recap, here's what we tasted:

From Alsace in France, the Albert Mann Pinot Gris "Rosenberg" 2008 ($22), an organic producer based in Wettolsheim; and Leon Beyer Pinot Gris 2007 ($22), from a centuries-old family producer in the village of Eguisheim.

From Northern Italy, Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2009 ($15), Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio 2010 ($20), both from Alto Adige, along with the d'Orsaria Pinot Grigio 2010 ($12) from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Finally, from our own backyard, we tried the King Estate Signature Pinot Gris 2010 ($15), along with one of their higher end "Domaine" bottles, and a bottle of Ponzi Pinot Gris 2010 ($15).

Overall, we didn't find a bad apple in the bunch—we'd be happy sipping any one of them, so long as they're chilled and the weather is warm. A few things did become clear, however, and they mostly ended up dividing the wines on clear cut lines of nationality.

Our Favorites

Both of the Alsatian wines we tasted emerged as the clear favorites for our group. These wines featured strikingly different aromas from the other wines. While the Italian and American Pinot Gris had crisp, simple scents with a bit of fruit, the Alsatians showed far more complexity. The Leon Beyer had a distinct aroma of toasted marshmallow with hints of caramel-like golden syrup as well. On the palate, it was slightly sweet and effervescent, but still quite balanced, refreshing, and easily drinkable.

The Albert Mann, on the other hand, was a little more funky, with aromas of savory mushrooms (some tasters even commented that it smelled like seaweed—I didn't get that). This is the kind of wine that would be equally at home for casual sipping on the back porch as it would be at a serious restaurant.

As it turns out, our two favorites were also the most expensive by a couple bucks, but here was a case where you get what you pay for, unlike with some of the Italian options (which we'll get to in a moment).

The Rest

After the clear victory of the French, we found ourselves gravitating back towards the Oregon bottles. Of the two bottles from King Estate, the more expensive Domaine was indeed superior: smooth, drinkable, not too crisp, with notes of apple cider and flowers. We were more divided on the Ponzi; it had some pretty distinct stone fruit on the nose: peaches, apricots, ripe nectarines. I personally found it a little too heady to be refreshing, but other people loved how unique its scent was.

What we were all in agreement about was the Italian Pinot Grigios: they were our least favorite, though again, we'd still happily drink any of them. Of the three we tried, the best was the d'Orsaria, which reminded us more than anything of flat prosecco: a little bit apple-y, slightly syrupy, with a hint of honey. Between the Alois Lageder and the Santa Margherita, we preferred the latter for its citrus flavors—grapefruit and lemon were mentioned by more than one taster, though neither of the two wines had much in the way of complexity or enticing aroma. There's a time and a place for non-challenging, easy drinking, and any of these Italian wines would fill that role nicely.

What stung us a bit was the price tag on the Santa Margherita. At $20 for a bottle, we don't expect too much, but we'd far prefer to spend the $12 on the d'Orsaria or pony up the extra $2 to pick up either of the French wines.

What about you guys? Do you drink Pinot Gris from Oregon, Alsace, and/or Italy? Have you tried any of these wines? Do you have a favorite?

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