A parade of PiGs

The new buzz on the Mornington Peninsula is the Gandel family’s Pt Leo Estate (pictured), an ambitious vineyard, restaurant and sculpture park. (Photo: Pt Leo Estate)

Pinot gris/grigio is the third most important white grape in Australia, after chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – having recently overtaken semillon. Not bad for a grape that was considered ‘alternative’ not so long ago. Today, it could hardly be more mainstream.

There seems to be a gradual increase in the number of wines that are more complex and interesting: wines that I really want to drink.

My latest tasting of 42 PiGs – as the industry likes to nickname them – resulted in a now-established pattern: a large underbelly of simple, basic wines which sell cheaply, capped by a handful of really excellent wines. Maybe I’m imagining it, but there seems to be a gradual increase in the number of wines that are more complex and interesting: wines that I really want to drink.

The new buzz on the Mornington Peninsula is the Gandel family’s Pt Leo Estate, an ambitious vineyard, restaurant and sculpture park. Their 2017 Pinot Gris is a very smart wine with a hint of barrel work and more richness and savoury complexity than most. I’ve also enjoyed their chardonnay and pinot noir recently. Pt Leo Estate hit the ground running, thanks partly to the winemaking, which is done at Stonier and is supervised by local stalwart Tod Dexter.

From the same region comes another complex rendition, Scorpo Estate Grown Pinot Gris 2017, which adds a touch of chardonnay-like low-level sulfide to its list of complexities. An excellent wine.

Paul Scorpo has a second wine, labelled grigio: a 2016 named Bestia. This is a more challenging style, and AUD $10 more than the regular wine. It has an orangey amber colour, rather like a darker rosé with some age, and is quite phenolic and dry in a style that demands food. Paul Scorpo writes on the back-label that this wine was made the way his father used to make wine in his Melbourne suburban garage, with rudimentary equipment and presumably a fair bit of skin contact. ‘Bestia’ apparently means ‘beast’ in Italian, which may refer to the wine. It would not be out of place in a trendy back-lane Melbourne or Sydney wine bar.

In an altogether more pure-fruit style is Ottelia, from the Limestone Coast. This is the label of Coonawarra-based John and Melissa Innes, he being a former winemaker at Rymill. The Inneses now run a very good restaurant in the Coonawarra township called Fodder, which doubles as the Ottelia cellar door. Their 2017 Ottelia Pinot Gris, blended from Robe and Mt Gambier grapes, is a beautifully pure, refined, intense wine, which is a far cry from the ubiquitous flabby, dishwater-smelling style of gris from warmer climes. And it’s only AUD $22.

New Zealand, of course, does pinot gris very well, and I was impressed by two 2014 wines from Nevis Bluff in Central Otago, one oak-aged, both deliciously flavoursome, rich wines with character and concentration. And happily ageing slowly.

Catalina Sounds 2017 and Pear Tree 2017 are two other lovely, fruit-driven styles from Marlborough, just AUD $25 and AUD $21 respectively.

Shadowfax 2017 Pinot Gris (Macedon Ranges), Oakridge Over The Shoulder 2016 Pinot Grigio (Yarra Valley) and Bellvale 2017 Pinot Grigio (Gippsland) were other stand-outs.

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