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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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