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The Gee in Pinot G

The rise Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in the Australian marketplace has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as it has occurred at the same time as the country has been drenched by a tsunami of increasingly cheap Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

While there has been a knock-on effect with increased interest in local Sauvignon Blanc, and substantial growth in plantings of Muscat à Petit grains (from a small base) for Moscato, there has been huge consumer interest in Pinot Gris/Grigio. So, what better time for the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel to line up 60 of the country’s finest and put them to the test? The Panel was joined by two learned Pinot Gris/Grigio producers: Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden and King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda, as well as yours truly.

A quick history lesson

Pinot Gris was planted in Australia much earlier than most would have imagined. Chris Bourke of Sons & Brothers in Orange mentions on his website that when James Busby imported his collection of grape varieties from France and Spain in the 1830s, what he had thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, Pinot Gris. As with much of Busby’s collection, it didn’t survive.

Today’s Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Mornington Peninsula in the 1980s by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy at T’Gallant and, although slowly at first, in the past decade it has taken hold of the public consciousness with increasing speed.

Kathleen sees three factors coming together to enable Pinot Gris to succeed on Mornington. It was the right region for the right variety. The clone that was available was ideal as it produced small berries, small bunches and only moderate vigour. There were adequate good sites (north facing slopes), which were as vital to ripening Pinot Gris as they were to ripening Pinot Noir. Consumers were the other key in this equation and she saw them as being interested in new varieties: looking for unwooded whites and wanting premium varieties as expressive as Pinot Noir.

In Australia no variety, except Sauvignon Blanc, has grown more impressively than Pinot Gris/Grigio in the last five years when the industry trend has been to stabilise or decrease the supply of grapes. In that time, it has moved ahead of Viognier, Verdelho, Muscat, Colombard and Riesling: more of it is produced than any of the major white varieties except for Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There are in excess of a hundred different labels of Pinot Gris/Grigio on the market in Australia at present.

What’s in a name?

A major marketing and consumer issue in Australia is that the same grape variety is produced and sold as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and, for many, this can seem pretty confusing. This difference has its roots in the vineyards of Europe.

Pinot Grigio is most successfully grown in the regions of Fruili, the Veneto and Alto Adige in North-Eastern Italy where it is picked early and produces a fresh, zesty, racy style with clean savoury characters. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is popular in Alsace where it is picked riper and therefore has a richer, fuller, plumper profile and is higher in alcohol.

The variety produces bluey grey grapes (deep purple with green flesh when fully ripe) that make white or lightly pink wines and are thought to be related to (or a mutant of) Pinot Noir. Throughout this tasting the issue of colour was rigorously discussed. Garry Crittenden said he liked his wine to be clear, while others on the Panel thought the wine should have a pinkish tinge to it. Whatever the preference, it is important that the consumer knows most Gris/Grigio will have a ‘pink-grey’ tinge to it, and that is completely normal.

Another key issue for Gris/Grigio has been the importance of identifying the places where it can be grown most successfully. Kathleen believes that far too much Gris/Grigio has been planted in warm Australian regions for which it is patently unsuitable. For Garry Crittenden, Pinot Gris/Grigio, like Pinot Noir, has become genetically adapted over the centuries to showing its full phenolic character in cool climates where the grapes ripen slowly over a long period of time. Low vigour is also vital to producing Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes that show concentration and character.

The results reveal

Firstly, the results supported Kathleen Quealy’s theory that Pinot Gris/Grigio does best in cool climate regions. The majority of wines in the tasting were cool climate and all of the top 20 wines were sourced from cool climate areas. More than half of those wines were sourced from Victorian vineyards, with the King Valley accounting for six of the top 20, while the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula claimed three each and Geelong, one. The Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley and Tasmania also registered as strong regions for Gris/Grigio, while Orange and Tumbarumba were the only regions of note north of the border.

Seven of the top 10 scoring wines were Pinot Gris. This result was explained by the fact that this varietal style is generally more malleable to winemaker manipulation. The Grigio style should be lighter, drier and more minerally, so will generally be picked quite early, cool-fermented in tank, then bottled, whereas the Gris style would be picked later and therefore riper, which means it can handle some winemaking artefact, such as lees stirring and barrel fermentation or maturation.

Pinot G?

The results also showed the Gris tasted were significantly removed from the wines of Alsace, while the Grigios were substantially different from their Mediterranean counterparts, and there were some wines that sat in between.

Panellist Trent Mannell posed this revolutionary hypothesis: had Australia developed its own style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, a style that is neither Gris nor Grigio but sits somewhere in between, a style we could simply label as Pinot G?

For instance, the Thorn Clarke Sandpiper Pinot Gris showed floral aromas but had some minerality on the nose with zippy acidity, while the The Pawn ‘Caissa’ Pinot Grigio was described as having a delicate acid balance and vibrance while at the same time was lauded for its muscaty aromatics and thick viscous texture. So you can see in these two examples there is some overlap in styles. If the results of the tasting were seriously scrutinised, then the outcome would suggest that we do indeed have three styles of this versatile varietal in Australia: Gris, Grigio and G.

The element of food

One of the other main issues that the Panel discussed during the tasting was the importance of drinking Pinot G in the company of food. These are textural wines, much more savoury and less fruity than most Aussie whites. They are transformed by being paired with appropriate foods.

One of the magic moments during the tasting came when Chairman Karl Stockhausen condemned a Pinot Gris as being lean, tight and watery. “I want some flavour,” he growled. Sam came to the Eden Valley wine’s defence, agreeing that it was neutral but insisting that placing it alongside food would bring the wine alive. Then he asserted, “I could drink it all day!”

With Pinot Grigio, you could try oysters, clams, prawns, grilled whiting, lightly battered barramundi fillets, mildly spiced stir fries, and with Pinot Gris, go for onion tart, lobster, barbecued or roast pork, or roast chicken. It’s a question of finding dishes that you think will work with the crisp zestiness of Pinot Grigio or the richer, fuller, weightier, more viscous character of Pinot Gris.

Overall, Sam believed that the tasting showed how far Pinot Gris/Grigio has come in Australia in the past decade. He said that if we’d held a similar tasting in the 1990s, far too many of the wines would have been bland or faulty. Most importantly, he was impressed at how well producers achieved the style that the label told us they were aiming for.

For you, though, the message is both clear and welcoming. Pinot Gris/Grigio, or for that matter, Pinot G, is doing very well in Australia. So when you are sitting down al fresco-style to a shared mezze plate or some antipasti this summer, crack open a bottle of Australian Pinot G and discover what all the fuss is about.

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The panache for Pinot
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 2 Jul 2015
Have you ever been stuck next to someone at a dinner party who loves Pinot Noir ? You know the type. They can wax lyrical about this grape for what seems like hours while you stare into your half glass of Shiraz wishing it was full. As you take a sip, it fills your mouth with its full, plush flavours and you wonder how the bloke next to you is possibly getting the same pleasure from his thin-bodied red. That’s how Wine Selectors member Joel Goodsir has always felt. He’s a man who looks askance at the Pinot section of the wine list; going straight for the big, bold reds that he knows guarantee a flavour punch. Even if you don’t identify with Joel, plenty do. It just fails to meet the expectations of many a red lover; they feel let down by its lack of oomph. This is a fact of great disappointment to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel who will all readily admit to being that person at the dinner party regaling guests with the finer points of this Burgundian red. Arguably the greatest Pinotphile of them all is Christian Gaffey, who says, “Pinot Noir is a melange of many subtle nuances, each more attractive than the last. Anyone can taste a bold Shiraz and be blown away by its obvious nature, however, Pinot Noir plays hard to get; it makes you work for your rewards. It is like no other variety; it can be expressive, elegant and bold all at the same time.” Sounds like it was time for a Members Pinot Noir tasting. A place for Pinot But first, a bit of background on why Pinot is seen as challenging. Firstly, region is everything. So much so that in Pinot’s birthplace of Burgundy where it’s been grown for hundreds of years, the French have invested just about all those years in isolating the perfect spots. In fact, as world renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson points out, “The Burgundians themselves refute the allegation that they produce Pinot Noir; they merely use Pinot Noir as the vehicle for communicating local geography, the characteristics of the individual site on which it was produced.” Not surprisingly, region and site selection are equally as important in Australia. The last time the Panel sat down for an in-depth Pinot tasting (Autumn 2012), they were joined by winemakers Jeremy Dineen of Tasmania’s Josef Chromy and Bill Downie of Gippsland’s William Downie Wines. Broadly speaking, Jeremy pointed out, Australian Pinot Noir needs a cool climate. Some of the best regions have proved to be Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula , WA’s Great Southern , Manjimup and Albany, SA’s Adelaide Hills and Tasmania . However, like Burgundy, individual sites can make all the difference. As Jeremy explained, “People are finding the best little sub-regions, and sub-sites in sub-regions so there is great diversity of flavours, textures and styles.” Having said that, you can have the best spot in the world, but if you don’t know how to look after your Pinot, you might as well be planting in the desert. Thankfully, Australian producers have greatly improved the other two areas essential to its success – vineyard management and winemaking. As Jeremy explained, “People understand more about soil, irrigation, about utilising lyre trellises and canopy management.” What’s more, Bill pointed out, winemakers have come a long way in understanding the skills necessary to master Pinot including, “Must pumping by gravity, handling ferments much more gently and less pump-overs.” So if Australian winemakers are mastering the art of this fickle grape, the last remaining hurdle is the drinker. The tasting For the tasting, we invited along two red wine-lovers with a penchant for Pinot. Richard Spillane has been a Regional Series member since 2000 and Deborah Best since 2006. Both have recently supplemented their regular deliveries with Pinot specific selections. Richard says of Pinot, “It may not be the red you’re used to drinking, but it’s one you can drink all year”, confessing that he even enjoys it slightly chilled. Deborah agreed, adding, “Pinot Noir is an ‘any time’ wine. You can enjoy it with a casual meal of pizza or something more high end.” Rounding out the trio was Joel, sceptical but open to persuasion. The line-up of wines reflected Australia’s best regions for Pinot, as mentioned above, starting with three from WA. While it’s the most recent state to dabble in Pinot, which means its vines are very young, Christian is of the opinion that WA is making some great examples. The Peos Estate Four Kings Single Vineyard 2014 was unanimously voted favourite of the three and admired for being delicate and savoury with forest floor characters and supple tannins. Next up was the Adelaide Hills. The most surprising thing for Deborah about this bracket was how much Pinot Noir changes in the glass. Christian agreed, saying that on first taste of the Dandelion Vineyards Heirloom 2013 he thought it was a bit lacking, but was amazed how much it changed for the better in the glass and his eventual description was of a “soft, supple palate.” The Yarra Tassie trail The Yarra Valley turned out to be the favourite region of the tasting with all three wines praised for their balanced acidity and firm tannins, ensuring great ageing potential. Included in this bracket was the Rochford 2013, one of the bolder Pinots and therefore, not surprisingly, a favourite of Joel’s. Last but by no means least were four wines from Tasmania. With the Apple Isle being a leading producer of Sparkling wine, it’s no surprise that Pinot Noir is widely planted, making up 95 per cent of the state’s red wines. In recent years, this has also resulted in many fine Pinot Noirs. The overall standout was the Josef Chromy 2013, which was loved for being rich and ripe with plenty of concentration and a fine acid finish. At the end of the day, it came as no surprise that Deborah’s and Richard’s love for Pinot Noir was thoroughly confirmed. But what of Joel? “Well”, he summed up, “Once I understood the goal was smoothness and seamlessness and stopped making the comparison with bigger, bolder wines, I got more enjoyment out of the tasting. However, I’m still troubled by the mildness.” Despite the hint of remaining doubt, the most important result was that a former disbeliever is coming around to the Pinot creed. So next time you’re stuck next to a devotee at a dinner party, proffer your glass for a splash of Pinot and remember you’re swapping a punch in the face for a smooth, seamless palate caress. Click here to shop our great range of Pinot Noir.
Wine
Better than Burgundy?
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
Thank you, Bill Downie, I now respect Australian Pinot . Bill said something to me about Pinot Noir that triggered an understanding and ultimately made me want to seek out a great Australian Pinot and savour its every drop. I am hoping by the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll feel the same way. As winemakers go, Bill is a bit of a legend in the Pinot world, but an anomaly in the wine universe. You see, he only makes Pinot. That’s it. His entire focus is Pinot Noir. He is an unashamed Pinotphile. Bill admits he has always been enraptured by Pinot’s romantic charm, but he really fell in love with the varietal when he was sent by his then employers, De Bortoli , to spend some time in Burgundy learning about Pinot. Five vintages later his love had become a marriage, a blessed union between a winemaker and a grape. He came back all smitten and doe-eyed and intent on making great Australian Pinot. Victoria is where he focused his attention, and in addition to his own vineyard in Gippsland, Bill now makes Pinot from vineyards in the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula . As Bill, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy Wines and I were getting ready to sip, swirl and spit our way through a bunch Pinot Noirs, Bill was regaling me with his adventures in Burgundy and he said something that resonated deep within my wine scribe soul, as well as my tastebuds. “My time in Burgundy taught me to have a true and meaningful respect for the place you are in, wherever that might be,” he said, before nonchalantly adding, “Before I went to Burgundy I was in Australia trying to make wine that tasted like Red Burgundy. But after I had been there I no longer wanted to do that, I wanted to come home and make wine that tasted like the place I was, be it Gippsland, the Yarra or Mornington Peninsula". All of a Suddent it Made Sense When I first entered into this wonderful world of wine, I had bought into all the hype and hoopla about how amazing this Pinot Noir varietal was. But I had tasted enough bad home-grown Pinot that it had sullied my respect for the varietal, and as I had explored more with Old World wines, the Australian Pinots I consumed seemed too big and boisterous compared to the elegant Red Burgundy I’d savoured. But Bill’s words had made me see the error of my ways. I had tasted Aussie Pinot wanting it to be the best of Burgundy, when I should have been rating it for what it was – Australian Pinot. Bill explained to me that we would never make a Pinot Noir that tasted exactly like Red Burgundy; however with the right ingredients we can make top quality Pinot that is uniquely Australian and far more expressive. So what are those magical ingredients needed to make great Pinot Noir? The most important are climate, site and vineyard management, not to mention the gentle caress of the knowledgeable winemaker. Climate Pinot Noir prefers cool conditions but not those with a major temperature drop at night. It simply detests the heat so it seems pointless to grow Pinot anywhere that is warm, such as places like the Hunter or Barossa. Maybe as a component of sparkling wine, or as a Rosé, yes. But even if you are the world’s best winemaker, don’t try to make a straight-out Pinot Noir in a warm region. You just can’t do it. Many have tried and failed. Even the revered wine critic and Burgundian lover, James Halliday, toiled fruitlessly to make Pinot in the Hunter. Perfect cool climate environments for Pinot exist in Australia in just a few regions, notably in Victoria’s Yarra Valley with its cool, crisp slopes and average humidity, and the Mornington Peninsula with its maritime cooling nights. But perhaps the region that is causing the most excitement is Tasmania . The Apple Isle is already earning a reputation as a producer of world-class Sparkling wine, so Pinot Noir, a key component of Champagne, along with its Burgundian sister Chardonnay, has been planted here for some time. It makes up half of all the vines in Tasmania and 95 per cent of red wine. More recently, straight Pinot is starting to find its feet here. Jeremy Dineen, who is also regarded as a maker of great Pinot after 10 years working with it at Josef Chromy in Northern Tasmania, says that climate is key to attaining the elegance for which great Pinot is renowned. “You are talking about a wine that has very fine tannins, where texture is one of the most important things, so if you can get a balance of ripe but fine tannins and fresh natural acidity, with those bright fruit flavours, it is the perfect Pinot and that is only going to come in the cooler climates,” he says. “If you look at the flavours you can only get that same perfume, subtleties, complexities and balance of natural acidity from cool climates and that is a really important part of Pinot.”
Wine
All Pizzazz - South Australian Shiraz
Words by Nick Ryan on 18 Aug 2015
It's a good and appropriate time to undertake a tasting of good ol’ South Australian Shiraz. While Pinot Noir is strapped tight to the rocket of rapidly ascending popularity and wine lists across Australia overflow with so-called ‘alternative’ varieties, the fact remains more bottles of Shiraz are consumed across the country than any other red variety and of those bottles the majority trace their origins to South Australian dirt. A good reason for the variety’s ubiquity is its ability to grow well in just about every wine region in the country and to present a different angle on its varietal character in each of those places. It really is our national barometer of terroir, the control that gives our experiments in regionality their context. When it gives us medium-bodied savouriness we’re in the Hunter, when it’s exuberantly spiced we’re in Canberra or central Victoria. When it’s all that and more we’re in South Australia. The results of a large tasting of South Australian Shiraz throwing up 30-odd top pointed wines offers a great opportunity to assess where the variety is at – they don’t call them State of Play tastings for nothing – and the results have presented some juicy food for thought. Some key observations follow. The Barossa is still king If we include the higher, cooler and bonier vineyards of the Eden Valley along with those down on the Valley floor, then the Barossa has produced almost half of the top pointed wines in the tasting. That shouldn’t really surprise us, after all the Barossa has always been South Australia’s Shiraz heartland. But what’s really exciting is the diversity of styles across the wines that performed well. “Ten years ago you could be forgiven for thinking Barossa Shiraz was pretty much all the same,” says senior Red Winemaker at Yalumba, Kevin Glastonbury. “A lot of the Barossa’s best wines were blended from across the region and made to a certain style, but now there’s a much greater focus on capturing what’s special about great single vineyards.” That’s got to be a good thing considering the Barossa has some of the greatest viticultural resources on the planet, including some wizened, deep-rooted old vineyards that date back to the early days of the South Australian colony. Zooming in closer on the Barossa’s viticultural map has also given a deeper understanding of sub-regionality across the Barossa. Glastonbury is well placed to comment on this development, having had a significant hand in two high-pointed wines in the tasting, each one representing a different approach to Barossa Shiraz Yalumba’s 2010 Paradox Shiraz is an outstanding example of this new way of thinking about Barossa Shiraz. Its vineyard sourcing is drawn from a narrow band across the northern Barossa, primarily around Kalimna, Ebenezer and up towards Moppa Springs, and the winemaking is carefully controlled to express the character of this corner of the region. “We want something that’s really savoury and supple rather than hefty and sweet fruited,” he explains. “We also back right off on the new oak and use old French puncheons.” Glastonbury is also a big fan of the distinctly different fruit that comes of vineyards up in the Eden Valley. “The nature of the place allows us to apply a few winemaking techniques that work well with that finer fruit. We’ve started to do things like a bit of whole bunch fermentation in some Octavius parcels and it really adds an extra dimension to the style.” The Barossa is clearly in a golden age South Australian Shiraz is becoming cool and getting high. Anyone labouring under the out-dated impression that South Australian Shiraz is all big flesh and brute power should look to the impressive number of top pointed wines in the tasting coming from the Limestone Coast and Adelaide Hills. Wines from Zema, Wynns and Brands help us realise there’s more to Coonawarra than just Cabernet Sauvignon and remind us that the famous terra rossa soils can produce outstanding, fine framed and elegant Shiraz. It’s particularly exciting to see a wine from Wrattonbully – Coonawarra’s near neighbour to the north – a region that really has the capacity to produce a fragrantly spicy Shiraz style. If this tasting took place a decade ago, we’d be surprised to see a single entrant from the cool, elevated vineyards of the Adelaide Hills, but in 2015 we have five breaking into the Top 30. Where many saw Pinot Noir as the future star when vineyards began to take root in the Adelaide Hills, it’s been Shiraz that has performed best. The Hills offers a huge diversity of sites for growing Shiraz and canny winemakers have harnessed this diversity to produce some of the most impressive cool climate Shiraz in the country.  Clare is the real dark horse One of the really significant elements of this tasting has been the strong performance of the Clare Valley. Clare attracts most attention for its Riesling, and while Shiraz lovers might look closer to Adelaide for their red wine thrills, it’s clear that the distinctive, consistent and exceedingly delicious Clare Shiraz style is something very special. Andrew Mitchell has been making Shiraz in Clare for four decades and his Mitchell Wines ‘McNicol’ Shiraz 2005 was the highest pointed wine of the tasting. “When we first started this place most people in Clare used Shiraz for making port,” he says. “ Even when table wines started taking off in the 70s, the market really wanted Cabernet, but I’ve always known Clare Shiraz was something pretty special. “Clare Shiraz can give you power, intensity, depth and length, but does it all with great balance and a kind of elegance that I think defines the regional style. “And it ages really well too. That’s why we release the McNicol with bottle age. I want people to experience just how beautiful these wines can be when mature.” There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate. The key word in discussing these results is ‘diversity’. The one obvious conclusion to be drawn from these results is that to talk of South Australian Shiraz as one homogenous thing is unjust. There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate. Click here see the Wine Selectors range of Shiraz
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