First published on 11 Mar 2010. Updated on 13 Apr 2011.
Though the pinot gris and pinot grigio grapes are one and the same, they are often schizophrenic in personality, ranging from soft, flabby and oily through to minerally, spicy, taut and crunchy in character. Gris is the French interpretation while grigio is the Italian, but in Australia anything goes and winemaker footprint is often the most defining element of style.
While sauvignon blanc is now a grape of mind-bending popularity, gris and grigio are ascending the rungs. Wine press, sommeliers and industry types have been pretty quick to give the variety a hard time. Sure, it can often be fruit-forward and lacking structure, but the overriding theme here is that more people drinking equals more people getting deeper into wine. Generally the grape produces wines that are a neat transition for sauvignon blanc drinkers, are food friendly and offer a little more complexity to those seeking some palate challenge and intrigue.
Recent years have seen the kaboom of popularity with T'Gallant's ace winemaking team leading the way. Kathleen Quealy was one part of that team and has outstripped the old winery to forge her own way. Her range ‘Quealy Wines' takes the variety very seriously and her exacting standards and vineyard sites have contributed to a benchmarking of Australian style. Kathleen is a straight shooter and a passionate advocate of the variety; her wines are complex, interesting and have depth. Meanwhile, T'Gallant still does very well with the variety, throwing out several different styles, mostly with a commercial sensibility (read higher sweetness, less complexity) that appeals to a broad consumer market.
However, looking for pinot grigio authenticity, it's Italian migrants who have championed the variety - the Pizzini clan from King Valley have reliably produced a very well balanced grigio from their temperate vineyard sites, with food friendliness at the forefront of the crisp, mineral-driven style. For gris that's reminiscent of its spiritual home in the Alsace region of France, look to Ocean's Eight winemaker Mike Aylward – his time in the vineyards of France has influenced his premium pinot gris and the pursuit of substantial concentration, complexity and texture.
Yalumba Y Series Pinot Grigio 2009 Refreshing with candle wax perfume, red apple and lemon butter on the palate. Camperdown Cellars, 140 Parramatta Rd, Camperdown 2050.(02 9517 2000 www.camperdowncellars.com.au). RRP$10.
Quealy Wines Mornington Peninsula Pinot Grigio 2009 Crackling pear juice and briny notes with fine mineral complexity, great persistence and poise. Domain Wine Shippers, 2/73 Beauchamp Rd, Matraville 2036. (02 9427 5222). RRP$25.
Ocean's Eight Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris 2009 Floral and with hallmark slippery texture - shows riper, concentrated pear and apple notes with waxy texture through the layered, rich palate. Ultimo Wine Centre, 99 Jones St, Ultimo 2007. (02 9211 2380 www.ultimowinecentre.com.au). RRP$34 (limited release).