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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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Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
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Best of Member Wine Tastings 2016
Words by Mark Hughes on 17 Jan 2017
In 2016, some fortunate Wine Selectors members had the pleasure of joining our tasting panel to put Hunter Shiraz, Pinot G and Sparkling to the taste test. Hunter Shiraz
The winemakers of the  Hunter Valley  craft a style of  Shiraz  that's unique to the region with its vibrant, fruit-driven appeal. While wineries and experts are on board with this style, we wanted to find out what wine-lovers think. Our guests discovered Shiraz that lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied and savoury, but also found the Hunter could produce excellent fuller styles such as those from The Little Wine Company and  Pepper Tree  . The wine that drew unanimous praise was the  De Iuliis Shiraz 2014  ,which was described as having "beautiful balance with long, spicy, elegant tannins." Overall, our members vowed they'll explore and add more Hunter Shiraz to their collection. Find out more about our  Hunter Valley Shiraz member tasting experience here. Pinot Gris and Grigio
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Which  Sparkling  is trending this summer? We asked some lucky members:  Traditional, Prosecco or Blanc de Blanc?  The results of this very festive tasting revealed that all three styles are well liked, it was just a matter of what type of occasion our guests were attending that would determine their choice of bubbly. One of our members, Trudi Arnall voiced everyone’s thoughts when she said, “If I was to turn up for an afternoon BBQ with the kids in the pool, a  Prosecco  would be great. If I was going to a dinner party, I’d go with the  traditional Sparkling  and if I really wanted to impress, I’d go with a Blanc de Blanc with some age.” Find out more about the results of our tasting  here  or learn more about the  difference between Prosecco and sparkling wines  with our handy infographic and guide. Find out more about becoming a Wine Selectors Member today!
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