Food & Wine Pairing

Ingredients and Styles

With respect to wine and food pairings, the most significant factor is the wine style. Italian versions and others patterned on them tend to resemble Sauvignon Blanc, without the grassy or herbal notes. Because of their acidity, as they are picked earlier, they are good at cutting through the fullness of richer recipes, butter and cream sauces, and highlighting the simplest of quality ingredients. In the summer, enjoy Pinot Grigio with plates of sweet heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and, for refreshing my palate alongside a rich, sautéed chicken breast sauced with a reduction of white wine, butter, and a dash of stock. Of course, in keeping with the lemon-wedge rule, a plate of oysters or tuna carpaccio is very content with a Pinot Gris, as is a simply sautéed rainbow trout or the classic Oregon match of Pinot Gris with plank-smoked northwestern salmon. 

The more viscous, tangy, and spicy examples from Alsace, California, and Oregon demand slightly richer dishes, but not necessarily pungent or highly seasoned ones. As with fine Chardonnay, the flavor of Pinot Gris is easy to lose in the mix. Simple pastas, fowl, shellfish, and white meats are sure bets, especially when accompanied by mildly rich sauces, reductions of pan juices, or light additions of fresh herbs. I enjoy Pinot Gris as a foil for a lemon mayonnaise or a light aioli. If the wine is indeed treated like a Chardonnay, with oak treatment and possibly some malolactic fermentation, then consider pairing it as you would a Chardonnay of similar personality. 

Although I am always willing to be convinced, I have yet to taste that many bottles of aged Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio that I felt merited the time in the cellar. So, avoid hanging on too long; instead, serve these wines fresh and bright, when they show at their finest. What's too long? Maturity, of course, is a subjective matter, but I think these wines don't last well more than two years after release, except in Alsace, where, counterintuitively, they may show well for up to a decade.

Wine Style Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking Methods
Crisp, unoaked, lower alcohol
Raw foods, from salads to fish
Fresh herbs
Cheeses with some acidity and semi-hard cheeses such as Gruyère, Comté and Emmenthaler
Simple dishes with clean flavors
Raw dishes: Ceviche
Steamed dishes
Dishes with butter and cream sauces (wine cuts though the richness)
Herbed sauces and condiments
Alsace and New World
Fuller-bodied, spicier, with or without oak
Coarse-textured foods such as white beans, polenta
Blue cheeses (but not too intense)
Root vegetables
White meats, chicken, turkey
Dishes with texture (clay pot treatments, dishes thickened with arrowroot, coconut milk-based curries)
Slow braising, gentle stewing
Use sauces that blend sweet-tart or sweet with salt

Methods of Cooking

Italian Style

Young, crisp, unoaked, lower alcohol

Cooking methods and ingredients: Use the highest-quality ingredients, simply presented. Present a dish with fresh lemon slices -- lemon acts as a bridge. Cook with butter and cream: the wine will cut through the richness. 

Dishes: Summer-ripe heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella; chicken breast with a reduction of white wine, butter and chicken stock. Any dish in keeping with “the lemon wedge rule” (dishes served with lemon wedges), such as rainbow trout, oysters, and scallop ceviche with grapefruit and avocado.

Alsace and New World Style

Fuller-bodied, unoaked or with oak

Cooking methods and ingredients: Smoking, reducing pan juices from cooking fowl or white meats to make a mildly rich sauce. Flavors should not be too bold: don’t overwhelm the subtle flavors of the wine. Use sauces that blend sweet-tart or sweet with salt.

Dishes: Plank-smoked salmon, lemon mayonnaise, aioli, stir-fried crab with garlic or black bean sauce, butternut squash risotto. Sauces include applesauce, soy-based dipping sauces.

Pairing Pointers

Pinot Gris/Grigio works well: 

  • With almost any food that works with a Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc (100 percent varietal, unoaked), as long as the Pinot Gris, likewise, is crisp, zesty, and unoaked. With Chardonnay-friendly dishes -- if the Pinot Gris is more unctuous, rich, and textured, like those from Alsace and some from Oregon and California. 
  • With many Asian preparations, such as stir-fried crab with garlic or black bean sauce. More austere versions cut through the richness and highlight great ingredients, while richer interpretations do well against flavorful, textured dishes (clay-pot treatments, dishes thickened with arrowroot or cornstarch, and coconut milk-based curries). 
  • With most simple shellfish dishes, including oysters, clams, and mussels, and raw fish dishes, such as tuna tartar, salmon carpaccio, and ceviche; the wine's acidity pops the naturally flavorful fish. 
  • Against sweet-tart sauces such as applesauce, or sweet-salty sauces such as Japanese ponzu and other sweet, soy-based dipping sauces. 
  • With semi-hard cheeses like Gruyère, Comté, and Emmenthaler. 
  • With picnic fare.

Pinot Gris/Grigio doesn't work: 

  • With thick, bold preparations. While its texture may hold up (especially in the Alsace or Oregon styles), the flavors are intrinsically subtle and may well get lost when the wrong style is selected. Pick bright, refreshing examples for simpler, sharper, leaner preparations. Consider richer versions for more textured, sauced, and thicker dishes. 
  • When the dish is overly sweet. If you have a recipe that is blatantly sugary, opt for a wine with some residual sweetness, such as a Riesling, rather than a dry Pinot Gris, or select an Alsatian vendange tardive interpretation. 
  • When served at the wrong temperature. Italian and Italian-style wines are best served cool; they fall apart if served too warm. Those that are oilier in body are muted if too cold and their flavors will be lost behind the meal. 
  • With big red meats. As with many other white wines, avoid Pinot Gris/Grigio with classic roasts of lamb, beef, or venison.