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Pinot Gris vs Grigio: What’s the difference?

There is Pinot Gris and then there is Pinot Grigio, but what if any, are the differences? We chat with Adam Walls and Dave Mavor from our Tasting Panel, plus some super-passionate Pinot G winemakers to set the record straight.

“Pinot G is hugely popular with Australian wine-lovers, but there’s still so much confusion surrounding this fresh and fashionable white,” says Adam Walls, Tasting Panellist, Wine Show Judge, Wine Educator and 2019 Len Evans Tutorial Dux. “To put it simply, they are both made from the same grape variety, but are crafted to produce two different styles.”

“The grape variety is a member of the Pinot Noir family and has two different names thanks to the two countries in which it is most commonly grown: France and Italy,” explains Adam. “Across the two styles, the common aroma and flavour descriptors include apple, pear, strawberry, honey, brioche and nuts.”

Just to add to the confusion, across the wine world it also has several names: in Germany the grape is known as Grauburgunder, in the Loire and Switzerland, it’s called Malvoisie, it’s known as Pinot Beurot in Burgundy and in Hungary, it’s called Szurkebarát which means grey monk.

PIÙ LEGGERO PINOT GRIGIO

The word Grigio is the Italian for "grey" and 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.

Bonjour! is it gris you’re looking for?

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 smooth, silky texture.

AUSSIE PINOT G GOODESS

The variety was first introduced to the Hunter Valley with the James Busby collection of 1832, however, it wasn't until the 1990s that it started to emerge.

Thanks to winemaking couple Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy, Pinot G is now one of Australia’s most popular white varietals. Kathleen and Kevin started their vineyard in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in 1998 and set about planting a range of varietals suited to the climate, including Pinot Gris. They released their first commercial Pinot Gris in 1933, and have huge success since, and are now seen as setting the benchmark for Australian interpretations.

Their son Tom, a winemaker at Quealy wines, has inherited his parents' passion for Pinot G and has completed vintages in the homes of both the Gris and Grigio styles.

"I’ve worked vintages at Domain Paul Blanck in Alsace, where Pinot Gris is one of four 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’re 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."

AUSSIE WINE REGIONS PINOT G LOVES

According to Wine Australia “While it’s nowhere near the heady heights of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot G, is growing rapidly with plantings of the grape outstripping Viognier, Verdelho, Muscat, Colombard and Riesling, and it’s now nipping at the heels of Semillon.”

In Australia, the cool climate regions of Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Orange, King Valley and Great Southern have the ideal conditions to produce high quality fruit and that allow winemakers to experiment with styles.

MORNINGTON PENINSULA

Tom Quealy says the  Mornington Peninsula's superior suitability for Pinot G is 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

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."

Celebrated Adelaide Hills winemaker Tim Knappstein sources fruit from a single vineyard near Lenswood to craft his Riposte The Stilletto Pinot Gris. “For the 2018 around 25% of the free run juice was fermented in French oak hogsheads and barriques of which 10% were new,” explains Dave Mavor, Tasting Panellist, Winemaker and Wine Show Judge. “It was then blended with the fresh tank fermented portions to provide a balance of fruit and complexity resulting in a wine showing a juicy pear and lemon fruit core, bright and fresh acidity, lovely texture and mouth-watering persistence.”

KING VALLEY

The landscape of Victoria’s King Valley is extremely varied, from the flats of the Oxley Plains to the heights of the Whitlands Plateau, one of the highest vineyard areas in Australia. It’s a melting pot for Mediterranean varieties due to its climatic similarity to Italy and Spain making it a top location to grow premium Pinot G.

“What makes our Pinot Grigio style so distinctive is the decision to harvest the fruit early to achieve light floral fruit flavours with good natural acidity. The juice is handled oxidatively to naturally remove any colour and unwanted tannins prior to settling and racking, then fermented cool in stainless steel to preserve fruit flavours followed by a short maturation period on lees during autumn and winter, before bottling in the spring,” explains Chrismont winemaker Warren Proft.

Chrismont also produces Pinot Gris as a partner to their Italian-inspired La Zona Pinot Grigio – the end result presents a compelling case for the diversity of the variety and its suitability to the King Valley region.

With their Italian family heritage, it’s a no brainer that Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini produce excellent Pinot Grigio from their King Valley vineyards. Made by their winemaker son, Joel Pizzini, their 2017 Pinot Grigio is a pure expression of the style, It’s dry and savoury with a fresh line of acidity driving the white and yellow fruit core through to the chalky finish.

ORANGE

Located in the New South Wales Central Ranges, the Orange wine region has the perfect cool climate and soil types to produce outstanding Pinot G expressions. It’s geographical indicator starts at 600 metres and has vineyards at elevations right through the scale to 1200 metres above sea level; Orange is the highest wine region in Australia and ranks among some of the highest in the world. Winemakers have the luxury of cool weather to retain delicate flavours and enough sunlight to achieve ripening.

“The Trophy and 2 x Gold medal-winning Angullong Pinot Grigio 2019 and Gold medal-winning Printhie Mountain Range Pinot Gris 2018 are both fantastic examples coming out of the Orange region,” say Adam Walls, Tasting Panellist, Wine Show Judge, Wine Educator and 2019 Len Evans Tutorial Dux.

“Simply put, the Printhie is one of the best we’ve tasted in 2019 – rich and full-bodied, with concentrated fruit flavours, grapefruit-like acidity, supple mouthfeel and a creamy finish in a solid Gris style. More proof, if it was needed, of the Orange region’s ability to excite with the sheer quality of wines that it’s producing,” Adam says. “Certain to take out more awards, the Angullong Pinot Grigio delivers soft, savoury yellow fruits with subtle herbaceous notes, pear, nectarine, ginger and dried herb and a juicy acid finish.”

GREAT SOUTHERN

The Great Southern region of Western Australia is a relatively new playground for Pinot G producers. It’s cool-climate wines are carefully crafted against a striking backdrop of some of the world’s most diverse National Heritage landscapes by wineries including West Cape Howe, Ludic Wines, Howard Park Wines and more.

“Our 2019 Pinot Grigio was been sourced from three vineyards – Mount Barker, Frankland and Margaret River,” explains Gavin Berry, West Cape Howe Managing Director and senior winemaker. “The later 2019 season meant the fruit ripened in generally cooler conditions, preserving the Pinot Grigio’s delicate fruit characters.”

“Meanwhile, our West Cape Howe Pinot Gris 2019 from Great Southern features crunchy white fruit with hints of jasmine and oyster shell. It’s elegant yet intensely flavoursome, true to the Gris style with a rich, textural and velvety finish.”

TASMANIA

Tasmania’s naturally elegant wines are made from grapes grown in climates similar to those of the famous European wines – with mild summers and long autumn days that ripen the grapes providing elegance and intensity of flavour. While its wine history dates back as far as 1823, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the industry began to flourish and it now produces elegant cool climate including Pinot Gris. 

Relbia Estate sources it’s fruit from the southern end of the Tamar Valley producing elegant cool climate wines showing crisp acidity, complexity and intensity. Winemaker Ockie Myburgh describes their Pinot Grigio 2017 – “Our Pinot Grigio is harvested ripe to capture full varietal character. The grapes are gently destemmed without crushing the berries, juice is pressed directly to a stainless-steel tank. Fermentation is carried out on light solids to provide a fuller mouth feel with texture and to balance the crisp acidity.” 

Another winemaker making a mark with their Pinot G is René Bezemer who sourced fruit from two of Ninth Island’s vineyards in Tasmania, Pipers Brook and Tamar Valley to create their 2016 Pinot Grigio. It’s deliciously textural and rich with good fruit-depth, balanced by lovely crisp acidity through to the long, complex finish.

TAKE THE TASTE TEST

Whether you choose a richer Gris or a zestier Grigio, or a mix of both, you can’t go wrong with Pinot G. Explore our diverse range now to discover your new favourites.

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