State of Play: Pinot Gris/Grigio
Tracing the evolution - and sustained poluarity - of it's two key styles, Adam Walls gets the measure of the Mercurial white variety we call Pinot G.
Pinot Grigio. Pinot Gris. Grauburgunder (use your best German accent to pronounce this one). Pineau Gris. You choose your muse. For simplicity, I will use the term Pinot G. Ten years ago, Selector took a deep dive into Australian Pinot G. A decade is a long time in wine, especially when the variety in question was relatively new and has since continued to experience unprecedented (and, for many, unexpected) popularity.
Today, it's everywhere from pubs to restaurants and trend-pushing wine bars and bottle shops. In summer 2011/2012, Selector looked at where it had come from and where it had landed at the time. Now, in 2022, we wanted to test the relevancy of the major findings of the last State of Play, while musing over what the future might still hold for Pinot G.
To that end, it was time to taste a range of recent Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris vintages from all across Australia. At the table for this varietal deep dive were Selector Publisher Paul Diamond; Wine Selectors' Head of Wine, Matthew White; Wine Selectors Tasting Panellist and winemaker Dave Mavor: and myself, Adam Walls, co–Chair of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel.
HAS ANYTHING CHANGED OVER THE LAST DECADE?
The importance of vineyard site, and the question of colour and style versus labelling were the major talking points in the Selector State of Play of 2011/2012. One of the most important and monumental shifts in the psyche of Australian viticulture over the last twenty years has been the focus on correct vineyard site, which now seems like common sense: planting varieties in climates that they thrive in produces the best results.
The highest scoring wines in this latest tasting all hailed from cooler growing regions, mirroring the results of 2011/2012. It was however interesting to note that the vast majority of wines that were grown in warmer climates were labelled Pinot Grigio, and almost all of them were made in a lighter, fresher and more neutral style.
The subject of colour divided opinions in the 2011/2012 tasting. Some members of the tasting group wanted the wine to be clear in colour – like any other white wine, as it were. Other members were of the opinion that a Pinot G with colour is perfectly legitimate.
I have witnessed many discussions in tastings and at wine shows in the past, but this is becoming less and less of a talking point these days. Indeed, when pressed during the tasting, the majority of the tasting panel had no problem with wines with a degree of colour or blush – copper, bronze and rose the most common.
The popularity explosion of skin-fermented white wines and orange wines have shown that high quality examples of Pinot G can come in all colours, and that all have merit.As with the 2011/2012 State of Play, the question of labelling versus style was one of the biggest talking points of our tasting.
Our tasting consisted of an equal mix of wines labelled Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, so it was inevitable that there was commentary around any wine that did not represent the style displayed of the label. These comments have been a constant for the last ten years and remain relevant today.
By way of clarification, there are two (very loose) styles of Pinot G in Australia, influenced largely by wines produced in Alsace in France, and in the northern part of Italy. The richer, textural styles pay homage to the wines of Alsace where they label their wines Pinot Gris.
The lighter weight, neutral and let us say crisp styles are a very loose, general reference to the wines of northern Italy labelled Grigio. It should be emphasised that the reference to the Italian style focuses on wines like Santa Margarita whose global success went a long way to pigeonholing the style of a whole country.
Comparing the results of 2011/2012 with this State of Play, it's clear that there is slightly more consistency when comparing the style denoted by the label with what is in the bottle. The vast majority of wines labelled Gris were fuller and richer in style; some of the Grigio wines however looked fuller and riper rather than being lighter and crisper in the classic Grigio sense. Family heritage, tradition and marketing preference seem to observably influence what is displayed on the label to some degree, rather than what’s in the bottle.
At the conclusion of the tasting, I challenged the tasting group to predict what the future could hold for Pinot G. It was clear that the past decade had seen an explosion in the number of wineries producing a Pinot G from what seemed like every viticultural region in the country. The driver of this is most certainly the wine drinkers of Australia. After all, money talks.
What might the next decade bring? Texture was an important discussion point. Somewhat of a buzzword in the last few years, winemakers are increasingly using the skins of white grapes in fermentation to impart flavour and tannin. Lees ageing, the use of oak, and other fermentation vessels such as concrete or ceramic eggs and amphorae have resulted in white wines that are powerful, heady and tactile.
Pinot G has not escaped this movement with a number of producers turning the variety into wines of texture and depth. While none of these styles were represented in this tasting, we did see more textural wines than we expected, and it was these wines that were preferred by the tasting panel. All panel members agreed that texture would become more important in Pinot G, perhaps through the full-skin contact approach of classic styles that show extra depth and character.
When it comes to price, Pinot G has stayed incredibly consistent as a varietal that tends to deliver exceptional bang for your buck. Nonetheless, whilst remaining one of the best value white wines around considering its typically high quality, there's clearly an opportunity on offer to produce more premium examples of Pinot G.
An explosion of small producers, an increased interest in textural white wines and a wine-loving public more willing to 'trade up' has created a unique environment where we may yet see Pinot G offer something for both accessible and aspirational markets.
Tomich Woodside Vineyard Pinot Grigio 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $25
The Adelaide Hills is one of the finest regions in the country for quality Pinot G, as this example from Tomich shows. Pale straw in appearance with lifted white pear, red apple, lemon zest and white nut aromas, the palate is racy, fresh and dry with a restrained mix of nashi and white melon, zesty citrussy acidity, some creamy nutty elements, and gentle chalky grip to finish.
Hungerford Hill Classic Series Pinot Gris 2021
TUMBARUMBA, RRP $27
Although their roots are firmly in the Hunter Valley, Hungerford Hill has been sourcing fruit from regional NSW, Hilltops in this instance, long before it became popular. Pale and bright in appearance with an expressive nose of white melon, citrus, apple pie, honey and talc, it's a classically varietal wine, fresh and bright with nashi, peach and lemon, hints of honey and pickled ginger, crisp acidity and a fresh finish.
Mountadam Vineyards Eden Valley Pinot Gris 2021
EDEN VALLEY, RRP $28
Pioneers of the region and renowned for its Eden Valley Chardonnay, Mountadam has also turned its hand to Pinot Gris with great success. Pale and bright, its nose is creamy yet fresh aromas of stonefruit, melon and pear. A rich, supple and juicy Gris style, with good fruit depth and attractive textural elements on the palate, showing layers of nectarine and quince with hints of musk on the soft finish.
Riposte The Stiletto Pinot Gris 2021
LENSWOOD, RRP $24
Pale and bright in colour, this wine from the Lenswood sub-region of South Australia's Adelaide Hills delivers savoury yet ripe pear and red apple aromas and is supple and juicy, with good varietal fruit depth and a creamy texture, some nutty lees elements and crunchy acidity. A stylish example!
The Lane Vineyard, The Lane Pinot Gris 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $25
Planted atop rolling hills adjacent to the Onkaparinga Valley, crafted by Turon White with fruit from vines dating back to 1993, this wine is pale straw in the glass with a musk lift over strawberry and ginger. The palate delivers a sweet fruit entry in a strongly varietal, cool climate Gris style, with white fruit and red berries, warm acidity and a plush finish – a good reflection of the Adelaide Hills terroir.
Symphonia Pinot Grigio 2021
KING VALLEY, RRP $24
Visionary winemaker Peter Read planted the Symphonia vineyard in the 1990s with relatively obscure varieties, many of which are now firmly in the mainstream. Crafted by Lilian Carter and pale with a faint golden hue, this Pinot Grigio presents intense, ripe aromas of pear and jasmine florals with background apricot, ripe and juicy apple flavours with subtle rose petal notes, slightly waxy texture, and good acid drive to finish.
Monterra Pinot Grigio 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $30
The brainchild of vigneron Norm Doole (of Dowie Doole fame) and winemakers Mike Farmilo and Daniel Zuzulo, Monterra's focus on estate vineyards has paid off with wines like this Pinot Grigio. Pale yellow in colour with very lifted lemongrass and white flower aromas, it's a bright and zesty wine with zippy layers of citrus and green apple, and some fresh leafy undertones. Youthful and intense with hints of cranberry and white pepper and lovely fresh acidity.
Pacha Mama Pinot Gris 2021
KING AND ALPINE VALLEYS, RRP $26
A small, family-owned wine company established in 2010, winemaking duo Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson have made a lovely Pinot Gris. Pale yellow with very lifted lemongrass and white flower aromas, it's bright and zesty with zippy layers of citrus and green apple, and some fresh leafy undertones: youthful and intense, with hints of cranberry and white pepper and lovely fresh acidity.
Chain of Ponds Amelia's Letter Pinot Grigio 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $20
First established in 1985, the Chain of Ponds winery was the first major planting of any note in the northern Adelaide Hills and has made a name for itself with wines like this Grigio. Pale yellow gold with honeydew melon, lime juice and white flower perfumes, it's a sweetly fruited wine that's juicy and fresh, with ripe red apple and pear core depth, with some underlying hints of nectarine and strawberry. Fleshy, flavoursome and textural.
Pikes Luccio Pinot Grigio 2021
CLARE VALLEY, RRP $24
The Pike family has been producing handcrafted beverages in South Australia since 1886, turning to winemaking in 1985. This Pinot Grigio adds to the family legacy and is pale and bright, with honeydew, ripe lemon and lemongrass aromas. Tight citrussy fruit and minerally acidity in a youthful and dry Grigio style, it shows green apple and lime juice intensity, and a spicy finish.
Corryton Burge Pinot Gris 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $28
Sixth-generation Barossa winemaker Trent Burge has selected the cooler neighbouring region of Adelaide Hills to make this flavoursome, fruit-driven and textural wine. Very pale straw with restrained musk, pear, white melon and rose water aroma, it displays a juicy palate with a fine mix of white stonefruit, nashi and green apple, mouth-watering saline notes, fresh acidity and a gentle finish. A wine that should evolve very nicely indeed over the next year or two.
Altus Rise Wildlight Pinot Grigio 2021
MARGARET RIVER, RRP $24
Not a great deal of Pinot G is made in Margaret River, but excellent examples like this beauty are emerging. Very pale straw in appearance with pear, lemon, and green apple aromas, it's a flavoursome wine with layers of green apple and nashi, fleshy and mouth-filling texture, vibrant acidity and subtle nutty complexity on a lively finish.
Tahbilk Pinot Gris 2021
NAGAMBIE LAKES, RRP $19
Tahbilk's place in the history of Australian wine is well attested to, and while deservedly famous for its Marsanne the winery has made a Gris worthy of attention: straw gold in appearance,with a slightly funky nose with restrained notes of citrus and kitchen spice. Quite juxtaposed on the palate, it's rich and textural yet with quite restrained fruit flavours, making for an interesting food wine.
Vinaceous Sirenya Pinot Grigio 2021
MOUNT BARKER, RRP $22
Vinaceous Wines sources grapes and makes wines that showcase various region and variety combinations, choosing Mount Barker for this bright and fresh Pinot Grigio. Very pale and bright in the glass with poached pear, lemon and red apple aromas, it's light-bodied and restrained with nervy acidity, hints of creamed white nut and white melon, subtle minerality and a fresh finish. Just lovely.
Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy Pinot Grigio 2021
LIMESTONE COAST, RRP $25
Following the establishment of Pertaringa and K1 (in McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills respectively), Geoff Hardy founded Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy to offer the broadest range of alternative varietals possible. This Grigio is pale gold colour, with aromas of ripe nashi and white peach with hints of pistachio and white pepper. Ripe yellow fruit and warm acidity, rich and textural in style, with a deep core of fruit and
a light spicy lift on the juicy finish.
The Dagger Pinot Grigio 2021
KING AND ALPINE VALLEYS, RRP $27
A lovely example of the crisp Italian Grigio style, the Dagger is crafted with fruit from two of Victoria's premier cool climate regions. Pale lemon in colour and opening with refined aromas of stonefruit, citrus, apple and macadamia, it's delicate and light-bodied with layers of peach, pear and green apple, hints of ginger and white melon, crisp acidity and a vibrant finish.
Southern Highland Winery SHW Pinot Gris 2021
SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, RRP $20
Crafted by SHW winemaker Eddi Rossi from 100% Southern Highlands G.I. fruit, this Pinot Gris is a lovely cool climate style showing faint copper blush in the glass with sweet fig and white melon aromas on the nose. A sweet fruit entry on the soft palate with jubey red berry fruit, clean acidity and a refreshing finish makes for an appealing wine from a region and a winemaker worth keeping an eye on.
Sam Miranda Pinot Grigio 2021
KING VALLEY, RRP $27
King Valley stalwart Sam Miranda has crafted another refreshing Pinot G in classic Grigio style, which shows attractive minerality throughout. Very regional and varietal, it's bright pale straw in the glass with fresh green apple and lemon zest perfumes. Restrained and tightly-wound with a crisp and dry mix of white and green fruit, refreshing acidity and a clean finish, it's a mouth-watering wine.
Credaro Five tales Pinot Gris 2021
MARGARET RIVER, RRP $24
Credaro has produced another great example of the slightly plusher Gris style with the 2021, one that also manages to be vibrant and fresh. Bold straw with green freshness. Lovely bright expression of lychee, pear and golden delicious apple; juicy with similar flavours carrying on from the nose adding hints of tinned pineapple, fine minerality, supple texture and a bright finish.
Finealta Pinot Gris 2021
LIMESTONE COAST, RRP $25
With decades between them in the industry, Simon and Shane decided to become business partners. Their brand Finealta means 'elegant' in Scottish, Gaelic and this Pinot Gris certainly is that. Very faint blush in the glass, it presents nutty, honeyed and complex aromas in a ripe and juicy wine. True to the Gris style, the palate shows complex almond meal and vanilla notes under ripe melon and quince, in a deliberately worked style.
Risky Business Pinot Gris 2021
KING VALLEY, RRP $25
A good example of the slightly richer Gris style using fruit from Victoria's King Valley, the Risky Business makes for an excellent wine to enjoy with food thanks to its impressive weight, texture and length. Pale lemon in the glass with a powerful nose of ripe lime, rich pear and green apple. A juicy, fruit-forward entry opens up with layers of white, green and yellow fruit, supported by notes of sea spray and quinine, and an elegant, minerally finish.
Haddow & dineen Grain of truth Pinot Gris 2020
TAMAR VALLEY, RRP $50
This benchmark wine is made in a true Gris style by Jeremy Dineen from Tamar Valley fruit. Pale yellow. Funky, powerful aromas of ripe melon, pear, vanilla and oak, rich and full-bodied with lashings of stonefruit, melon and quince, gentle acidity and texture, oyster shell minerality and a hint of crème brulée to finish. Almost a Chardonnay-drinker's Pinot G, this is a true stunner.
Ad Hoc Nitty Gritty Pinot Grigio 2021
PEMBERTON, RRP $22
Released under accomplished winemaker Larry Cherubino's Ad Hoc label, the Nitty Gritty Pinot Grigio is a great wine for any occasion that shows how well-matched the varietal is for the Pemberton region. Presenting with a pale orange blush, it shows lifted aromas of orange melon, stonefruit and strawberry with a juicy, jubey palate with layers of sweet melon and pear, making it a really flavoursome all-rounder.
Sevenhill Inigo Pinot Gris 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $25
Although based in South Australia's Clare Valley, Sevenhill – the region's first vineyard – has crafted this deliciously modern Pinot Gris with fruit from cool climate Adelaide Hills. Bright and pale with a nose of savoury yellow fruit and herb aromas, it shows lemony fruit intensity in a fresh, juicy and textural style with lovely pear, apple, honeydew melon and white pepper, and a deliciously vibrant, fresh and long finish.
Drop Zone Pinot Grigio 2021
LANGHORNE CREEK, RRP $22
A classic dry and fresh Grigio style that would be right at home in the cafes of northern Italy. Great to drink by itself or with seafood, vegetables or soft cheese, it's pale straw in colour with white pear, green apple, lemon zest and white nut aromas. A classic Grigio style, the palate is dry, restrained, light-bodied and refreshing, with savoury white and green fruit, subtle minerality and mouth-watering acidity.
Annais Organic Pinot Grigio 2021
MUDGEE, RRP $22
Winemaking team Debbie Lauritz and David Richards from Oatley Vineyards in Mudgee have produced a small range of organic wines named Annais, meaning 'pure and graceful' – and this wine lives up to the name. Bright straw with green freshness, fine yet complex aromas of white apple, pear, anise and ozone, it's a long, velvet-textured example with a jubey mix of nashi, custard apple and white fig, terrific minerality and fine natural acidity.
La Bohème Act Three Pinot Gris 2021
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $22
De Bortoli's La Bohème wines are designed to be easy drinking, bistro-style drops, and this plush Yarra Pinot G is just that. Very food-friendly, it's bright straw green in appearance with crisp and fine aromas of pear juice, golden delicious apple, musk and honey. The palate flows on from the nose, with clear varietal white and green fruit, in a generous young-drinking style.
Petaluma White Label Pinot Gris 2021
ADELAIDE HILLS, RRP $26
Petaluma's White Label range is crafted in the same Petaluma philosophy as the highly regarded Yellow Label, with grapes for this wine grown in the key region of Adelaide Hills The wine is pale straw in the glass with aromas of lychee, white melon and guava, while the palate shows a mix of stone and tropical fruit with a vibrant, pleasing texture and lively acidity. An excellent example of an Adelaide Hills Pinot G.