Pinot gris and grigio styling

Pinot gris grapes on the vine (Photo: via Wikimedia)

It seems to me that many regular wine drinkers are still confused about the difference between pinot gris and pinot grigio. Alas, tasting these wines in numbers does little to solve the puzzle, as many wines labelled grigio taste more like gris, and some vice versa. The grape is the same, and the distinction can be loosely described as follows:

Grigio: In the Italian style, made from earlier harvested grapes and hence lower in alcohol (12 – 13%), usually unwooded, dry (little or no residual sugar); aromas tend to be grassier and simpler, fruit-driven, the palates lighter and crisper, straightforward, refreshing. They’re good aperitif wines or with lighter fish and seafood accompaniments.

Gris: In the Alsace style, made from riper grapes, and hence containing more alcohol (13.5 – 14%), can employ some barrel fermentation and may hold substantial sweetness; aromas are richer and spicier, ripe stone fruits and even a hint of muscat, the palates fuller bodied, rich and rounded with softer acidity. They’re good with richer foods, such as quiche and richly sauced fish or poultry.

My latest tasting of pinot gris and grigio numbered over 70, an indication of how the category has grown in recent years. It included two German wines, and just to confuse things further, the Germans call this grape grauburgunder (sometimes rülander). These names all mean the same thing: the ‘grey pinot’ or grey Burgundy grape. (When in Germany just remember that all the ‘-burgunders’ are pinots: weissburgunder is pinot blanc; blauburgunder and spätburgunder are pinot noir.)

From Baden, the two Dr Heger wines (tastings) I tasted were every good, the single-vineyard Ihringer Winklerberg exceptional. It was an equal-top scorer of the tasting, with Ten Minutes by Tractor, Lethbridge, Hoddle’s Creek Estate and then a suite of New Zealand wines: Hunter’s, Ata Rangi Lismore and Paddy Borthwick. These are all gris styles.

The top pinot grigio was Karrawatta Sophie’s Hill, from the Adelaide Hills. I am impressed every time I taste Karrawatta wines (tastings) and am reminded that the winemaker is a Gilbert – Mark Gilbert – descendant of Joseph Gilbert, a very early Barossa winegrower who planted the original Pewsey Vale vineyard in the 1840s.

Other wines that impressed came from Elgee Park, Mount Langi Ghiran, Baillieu, Logan Weemala, Tertini, Moorilla Muse, and Natasha Mooney’s new label, La Bise.

Pinot gris seems especially suited to solids and skins fermentations and is a favourite for the new-guard winemakers pursuing ‘orange’ or ’amber’ wines (white grapes fermented on skins like red wine). Peter Logan is at the forefront of this trend, and has two 2016 pinot gris on the market now, the Weemala which was made with 30% skins ferment, but could still be classed as an extreme style of pinot gris, and Clementine, which is more orange/amber in colour and more strongly skins influenced (95% was fermented on skins). It has quite a tannin grip and demands food, but is a well-made example of the style. Both are affordably priced at $20 and $23 respectively. Make sure you have food on hand and taste them both with and without food in your mouth. You will be surprised.

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