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Wine

Pinot Gris vs Grigio: What’s the difference?

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape variety, so what's the difference? We talk to some passionate Pinot G winemakers to find out.

While it's fast becoming one of Australia's most popular varieties, PinotGris/Grigio still presents a point of confusion for many wine-lovers.

Made from one variety, a member of the Pinot Noir family, this grape has two different names thanks to the two countries in which it is most commonly grown: France and Italy.

Gris is French for "grey" and in France it finds its home in the Alsace region. French Pinot Gris is generally known for being a rich, full-bodied white with a lovely silky texture.

Grigio is the Italian for "grey" and in contrast to the French, Italian Grigio has made a name for being a light, crisp wine ideal for early drinking and is most famously known in the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Across the two styles, the common aroma and flavour descriptors include apple, pear, strawberry, honey, hay, brioche and bread.

AUSSIE HOME

The variety was first introduced to the Hunter Valley with the James Busby collection of 1832, however it wasn't until the 1990s that the variety started to really emerge. This was thanks to a winemaking couple who made their home on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula in 1988: Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy.

Having been introduced to Pinot Gris at college, Kathleen felt intuitively that they had come to the perfect region for producing the variety. They released their first commercial Pinot Gris in 1993, have had huge success since, and are now seen as setting the benchmark for Australian interpretations of the variety.

Following in their footsteps is their son, Tom, a winemaker at Quealy wines who has inherited his parents' passion for Pinot G. What's more, he's been to the homes of both the Gris and Grigio styles.

"I have worked vintages at Domain Paul Blanck in Alsace, where Pinot Gris is 1 of 4 premium varieties", he explains. "Their vineyards define the quality and the personality of each of their wines. They revel in the power and voluptuousness of these wines, from bone dry with the generous dollop of extract in the middle palate, to off dry with enough flavour and structure to make the wine balanced and suitable with a main course. They are able to make and market their even richer sweeter late harvest styles. The wines are beautiful to drink, slightly drying out with a few years bottle age, and suit their dishes of duck and pork.

"I have also worked and spent time in Friuli. Their lighter soils and their food culture define their Pinot Grigio style: crunchy pear, dry and textured. The winemaking art of blending abounds. There are field blends and regional blends of many white varieties, with Pinot Grigio a central component."

MORNINGTON MAGIC

Back home, Tom explains the Mornington Peninsula's superior suitability for Pinot G down to a combination of regional factors. "It's the climate - cool, maritime, Indian summers. It's the cloud cover and sea breezes. The Red Hill and Main Ridge flank creates intimate valleys of rich volcanic soils that hold onto the rainfall. The dryland farming keeps each berry and bunch tiny and concentrated. Then there's a winemaking fraternity reared on Pinot Noir and now applying these skills to their love child Pinot Gris."

 

ADELAIDE HILLS EXCELLENCE

Another standout Aussie Pinot G producer is Wicks Estate in the Adelaide Hills, where, Tim Wicks, explains, "The cool evenings promote great acid retention in the fruit, along with a gradual flavour ripeness without excess phenolic development. This allows the variety to retain a charming aromatic lift which combines beautifully with the subtle textural elements."

At Wicks Estate, they make a Gris rather than a Grigio, but as Tim describes, it may be akin to the Gris style, but it maintains a hint of the Grigio aromatics and racier acid lines. This is reflective of the Gris-Grigio overlap that Tim sees as common in Australia.

"We have countless fantastic wines that tend towards either the richer Gris characters or lighter aromatic Grigio characteristics. There are also wines that exhibit traits of both, take our Wicks Estate Pinot Gris, for example. We like the sharpened focus and aromatic style of the Grigio, but tend to lean towards the textural qualities of Gris on the palate. The styles have their own identity, however, we have diverse terroir and climate in Australia that can lend itself to a hybrid style."

 

THE PROOF IS IN THE TASTING

At the end of the day, whether you go for a richer Gris or a zestier Grigio, or a mix of both, only your palate can decide. To help you choose, we've got an extensive range from the Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and beyond to explore .

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THE EMERGING PINOT GIANT - WA We have seen a marked increase in the number and quality of Pinots coming from the West in recent years, particularly from the vast  Great Southern  area encompassing the five distinct sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongorup, as well as a secluded pocket of the South West around Pemberton and Manjimup. So what has led to the emergence of WA as a Pinot powerhouse? According to second generation winemaker Rob Wignall, whose father Bill pioneered Pinot production in Albany, there have been a number of small improvements that make up the overall picture. He believes that climate change has been a significant and positive factor, moving the region's climate into more of a semi-Mediterranean situation with mild summer days and a reduction in rainfall throughout the growing season, leading to improvements in disease control and better canopy management. In addition, Rob feels that better oak selection and winemaking practices such as 'cold soaking' of the must prior to fermentation have led to improvements in the finished product. He is also a strong advocate for screw caps, believing that the delicate fruit characters of Pinot really shine under this closure, and that they also enhance the age-ability of the wines. Luke Eckersley, from regional icon Plantagenet Wines in Mt Barker, points to the variations in micro-climates and soil types across the Great Southern region as a factor. "Pinot Noir styles are varied with complex savoury styles from Denmark; elegant perfumed styles from Porongurup; rich fruit driven styles from Mount Barker; big robust styles from Albany; lighter primary fruit styles from Frankland River," he says. Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. Equally exciting are the emerging Pinot Noir regions such as those in WA, as well as Tumbarumba and Orange, that show that the future for Pinot in Australia is bright. So, if you find your Shiraz doesn't love you as much anymore, perhaps look to Pinot, and when doing so, glance west. THE WINE SELECTORS TASTING PANEL The wines in this State of Play were tasted over a dedicated period by the  Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , which is made up of perceptive personalities and palates of winemakers, international wine show judges and wine educators. With an amazing 140 years collective experience, they love wine and they know their stuff.
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