Whether you call it pinot gris or pinot grigio, the variety has become an international star, pushing even sauvignon blanc out of the spotlight for those wanting a crisp, quaffable white without all the overt fruitiness. But the grape is much more versatile than that, making wines that can be dry and mineral or richly sweet and spicy, as well as skin-contact examples that are grippy and fragrant with red fruits and spices.
Also known as
Pinot gris and pinot grigio are used alternately in the New World, usually by makers who want to distinguish between finer, more mineral styles (grigio) and more plush and textural ones (gris). The idea here is to reference the wines of Italy for the former, or those of France, specifically Alsace, for the latter. The grape is the same, and the styles of Italy in particular aren’t so readily categorised, but it’s a decent guide to what’s in the bottle for an Australian example. Grauburgunder is synonym that may grace a bottle of Austrian or German takes on the grape, though the Germans will also use the synonym rülander, which is typically used for sweet wines.
What pinot gris/grigio tastes like
Being able to be picked along a varied ripeness scale and made in quite different ways, pinot gris can taste wildly different from one producer to the next. Picked early and fermented simply, it is a fairly neutral grape, with different nuances of pear being the common descriptor, with fresh fruit drifting into stewed or baked pear as it gets riper. Allowed to ripen further, and those flavours can become more exotic and quite spicy, with botrytis sometimes adding even more luscious layers. It is not uncommon to see pinot gris with a little residual sugar, from a little to quite a lot, while those examples that have seen skin contact can have aromas that recall red berries and spicy, almost red vermouth-like notes.
Vineyard & winemaking
Ripening early, pinot gris is a cool climate variety, but the fruit can be picked both early and late, ranging in style from bright and acidic, to rich and full bodied, to lusciously sweet. Pinot grigio is an offspring of pinot noir, or rather a mutation, with the skins having quite a red hue when fully ripe. If the wine is left in contact with those skins or is pressed hard before fermentation, that colour is readily transferred, with wines ranging from slightly coppery tints to those that look more like light reds. With that colour can come a bit of tannin, too, which can work well with weightier expressions, but can look coarse on lighter ones. The grape is a very versatile one with it susceptible to botrytis, which can be a problem if making pure, dry style, but it also allows for the possibility for late-picked wines of incredible intensity.
Where is pinot gris/grigio grown?
In Italy, pinot grigio is grown mainly in the north, with the Veneto, Alto Adige and Friuli the key regions. The latter is particularly known for the quite powerful versions from the east of the region in the Collio and Colli Orientali, while most of the region produces lighter, and often simpler, wines from alluvial soils. Alto Adigo is an elevated region and generally turns out pure crystalline expressions, while the Veneto was – and still is – largely responsible for the tidal wave for anonymous pinot grigio for the international market – it’s also worth noting that Italian plantings have increased by a staggering 532 per cent since 2000! But, while it is most often associated with Italy these days, pinot gris is a French variety. Having been born in Burgundy and travelled to Champagne, it was largely abandoned in those regions, migrating to its principal home in Alsace, which is the most Germanic of French regions, with Strasbourg as its capital. The wines there range from simple, though typically still exotically fruited, to revered cru wines and long-lived sweet wines.
Pinot gris/grigio around the world
While it doesn’t break into the top 10 of grapes globally, pinot grigio is planted very widely in both the New and Old Worlds. It’s planted throughout Western and Eastern Europe, typically going hand-in-hand with riesling. Germany has nearly double the plantings of France, and Austria has modest but meaningful vineyard space devoted to the grape, but it is down the list of importance, with the best sites devoted to riesling for Germany and grüner veltliner and riesling for the Austria. Germany, however, is increasingly championing the variety in more sophisticated versions. Pinot gris is grown in several regions in the US, while New Zealand has significant plantings, which are increasing all the time.
Pinot gris/grigio in Australia
Although pinot gris came to Australia in the 1830s, it took until the very end of the 20th century for it to find favour. But once convinced, Australia fell for the grape in a big way, with total plantings now around 4,000 hectares, which generate about 9 per cent of all white wine made here. And while you’d expect those vines to be concentrated in cooler areas, the Riverina and Murray Darling make up the lion’s share of those 4,000 hectares. Major vineyards are also located in Padthaway and Wrattonbully, with regions like the Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula capturing much attention for the quality end of the market, but only accounting for a fraction of the output. The real pioneers of the grape were Kevin McCarthy and Kathleen Quealy in the 1990s, who made a raft of expressions on the Mornington Peninsula under their T’Gallant label, before selling and setting up under the Quealy Winemakers banner, where they have continued the exploration.
Photo of pinot grigio grapes seen here, courtesy of Chalmers vineyard.
Some of the best Australian pinot gris/grigio
Some of the icons
Some of the new wave
Château Comme Ci Comme ça
Hughes & Hughes (Mewstone)
Main & Cherry
One Block & Jayden Ong