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Wine

Will the real Pinot G please stand up

Pinot Grigio and Pinto Gris are two of our most popualr white wines. Are they the same? What is the difference? Which do we prefer? Is it all to do with fashion and marketing? We held a Wine Selectors Members' Tasting to answer these questions and more.

About four years ago, Selector ran a State of Play tasting on Pinot Gris/Grigio where the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel reviewed over 60 of the best Pinot Gris/Grigio in the country. Apart from collating a great list of the top scoring wines, what we hypothesised at the end of this tasting was the fact that Australia may in fact produce a wine that is not strictly Pinot Gris and not strictly Pinot Grigio, but instead, a gorgeous white that we labelled as ‘Pinot G’. To explain this further, we have to go back, (it sounds counter-intuitive, but stick with me, as it is a bit of a ‘grey’ area).

If you didn’t get that joke, here’s the explanation – Grigio and Gris both mean ‘grey’, but in different languages because Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape, just grown and celebrated in different areas of Europe.

Grigio, as the name suggests, is the Italian version, grown predominantly in the regions of Fruili, Veneto and Alto Adige. It is generally picked early and produces a fresh, zesty style with some savoury characters. Gris is the French style, cultivated mainly in the region of Alsace. Its general characteristics are of a rich, full-bodied wine with plump stone fruit flavours and some spice.

Popular means ‘plant it’

Although Pinot G has been planted in Australia since about 1980, it has only been in the last decade or so that it has really become popular. And when I say popular – it is immense – five fold since 2006. When this happens, every winemaker and his dog chuck in a few vines in an attempt to earn some dollars at their cellar door. And why not, that’s business.

But, one of the problems is that Grigio gets made in a region that might be better suited to Gris, Gris gets made in a region perhaps more ideal for Grigio, and both get made in regions that are perhaps not suited to either.

Furthermore, because the name ‘Grigio’ sounds a bit trendier at the moment, the marketing folk insist on putting Pinot Grigio on the label, even when the style of wine is really that of a Pinot Gris. The end result is that it is all very confusing for the consumer. All we want is a nice white wine!

The Members rally

To help in this battle to better understand the wines we drink, we asked three Wine Selectors Members (and a guest of a Member) to come into Wine Selectors to join the Panel and taste their way through 16 Pinot Grigio/Gris, handpicked from noted producers across the country. 

Long-term members Jeffrey Roberts, Julie Hughes (yes, my wife), and Josh Doolan (plus his guest Linda Thomas) sat down with Wine Selectors Tasting Panellists Trent Mannell and Adam Walls, and Selector publisher Paul Diamond for an afternoon of fun and informative vinous examination.

Before we even poured a glass, a quick  Q&A confirmed what we had surmised – that the general drinker found it difficult to delineate between an Australian Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, and that most consumed Grigio more often than Gris, except for Julie, who came into the tasting not really a fan of either style, but admitting she had only tried a few.

The wines of the Pinot Gris/Grigio tasting

Bracket 1 – Pinot Grigio
David Hook 2015
Adina Vineyard 2015
Primo Estate Joseph d’Elena 2015
Tomich T Woodside Vineyard 2015
Norfolk Rise 2015

Bracket 2 – Pinot Grigio
Devil’s Corner 2015
Ninth Island 2015
Sam Miranda 2015
Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine 2015
Gapsted Valley Selection 2014

Bracket 3 – Pinot Gris
Eden Road The Long Road 2015
Austins Wines Six Foot Six 2015
Natasha Mooney La Bise 2015
Pipers Brook 2014
Coombe Farm 2014
Lisa McGuigan Platinum Collection 2013

The Grigio brackets

The range of styles of these wines was on show from the first Grigio bracket. Jeffrey, Josh and Linda were all taken with the plush fruit and savoury aspects of the David Hook Pinot Grigio 2015 from the Hunter Valley, while the Panel felt the Tomich T Woodside Vineyard Pinot Grigio 2015 (Adelaide Hills) and the Norfolk Rise Pinot Grigio 2015 (Mount Benson) had more of those Grigio varietal characters: crisp, bright pear and Granny Smith apple flavour with savoury notes and a umami-like persistence.

When anyone gets the chance to taste 16 wines in a row opposite some of the best palates in the business, they embark on a real education. Apart from learning about the subtleties of wine, what our Members discover, as do all our guests who come in for these tastings, is that they actually do have quite a discerning palate. They know what they like, and what they don’t, but the main difference is the ability to describe and catalogue all the vinous information. But once they have some understanding of what to look for in the wine, the varietal characteristics, and the differences in styles, they quickly display some real wine tasting nous.

This new skill set was on show with the second bracket of Pinot Grigio, as the scores of the Members and Panel started to align. Sourced from cooler climates than the first bracket, these Grigio were tighter and more acidic. Jeffery, Josh and Linda were all taken with the Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio 2015 (Tamar Valley), which was described as having excellent balance between the juicy fruit and fine acid frame, while the Sam Miranda Pinot Grigio 2015 (Alpine/King Valley) also appealed with its bright, ripe fruit and restrained persistence. However, Julie stuck to her pre-tasting mantra and was non-plussed by either of the Grigio brackets, finding it hard to get past a taste she described as ‘bitter’.

The Gris

The Gris bracket showed the differences in style between Grigio and Gris. While there was the characteristic pear and green apple fruit, the Gris had a fuller texture and almost creamy mouthfeel. Julie came to the party giving great scores to the Austins Six Foot Six Pinot Gris 2015, which she described as dense, layered and soft, as well as the Coombe Farm Pinot Gris 2014 (Yarra) and the Lisa McGuigan Pinot Gris 2013, which found favour with luscious soft acid and juicy savouriness.

The end result

The fact that there were 10 Grigio and six Gris in the tasting is reflective of the popularity of the styles in Australia. Grigio is more trendy, sells better and pairs well with summery dishes such as seafood and mezze plates, while Gris has a more acquired taste, matching well with richer, creamier recipes.

However, the big thing to come from this tasting was the development of winemaking techniques that show that noted producers, at least, are making Grigio and Gris more in line with their European counterparts. Perhaps, we can now drop the ‘Pinot G’ label and confidently use Grigio and Gris. Try these wines yourself and see if you agree.

 

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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.”
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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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