What is Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio?
It’s Pinot Gris in France and Pinot Grigio in Italy. Both names translate as ‘Grey Pinot’, a reference to the grape’s colour, not the wine. While the grape originally came from France’s Burgundy region, most connoisseurs consider the wines of Alsaçe, also in France, to be the finest. The other stronghold of this grape is the flood plains of Northern Italy. Pinot Grigio, unlike its Alsatian counterparts, which can be quite rich and full-bodied, is made into lighter, less complex, quite austere styles.
Pinot Gris has acclimatised extremely well throughout New Zealand and now international experts recognise its quality as among the best in the world. New Zealand’s major plantings are in Marlborough, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Central Otago.
In Australia, there are no rules governing the use of the varietal names of Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. The convention in Australia is to use either Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio to indicate that the wine follows the French or Italian style. Sweeter or richer wine styles are typically labelled Pinot Gris whereas the drier, lighter-bodied varieties are labelled Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Gris is a medium to full-bodied wine that is fruit-forward. Melon and apricot are the primary flavours with some spice and floral notes. Pinot Gris is also slightly oily or unctuous in texture.
Warm climates tend to give Pinot Gris honeyed characters whereas the cooler-climate wines tend to be well structured.
Many producers age small amounts of their Pinot Gris in oak for a short time to add complexity.
Pinot Grigio is a leaner wine that is lighter in structure with lots of minerality. Crisp, fresh fruits such as pear, white peach and green apple are apparent through the Italian style. Pinot Grigio wine tends to be clear like Riesling. With some age and extra work from the winemaker, Pinot Grigio can take on some nutty or marzipan notes. Pinot Grigio wines are often mouth-puckering wines with steely, citrus acidity.
Pairing with food
As Pinot Gris tends to be more full-bodied it pairs well with lighter meat dishes. Roast chicken and pork are an obvious match. Fresh NZ seafood is a hit. It also pairs well with creamy pastas. Examples with crisp acidity match well with spicy food such as Thai green curry. Pinot Grigio is lighter than Pinot Gris and pairs very well with Mediterranean dishes. Fish, shellfish, salads and antipasti will all make for good company. Or go Italian, with a creamy salmon pasta or spaghetti carbonara.
Notable regions for Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio?
New Zealand - Pinot Gris/Grigio is now New Zealand’s third most popular white variety after Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It is mostly planted in Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Central Otago, with some plantings in Waipara and Waiheke Island. Pinot Gris can be made in two distinct styles – light-bodied and fruit-driven or rich and mouth-filling. New Zealand’s cooler regions produce wines of higher acids and more obvious aromatics. The grape’s typical aromas are of apples, pears, honeysuckle and spice with richer examples featuring apricot and other stone fruit. Kiwis tend to drink their Pinot Gris/Grigio while it’s young and fresh, as most styles are not made for cellaring.
Australia - Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are grown in the cooler-climate regions of Australia. The Mornington Peninsula and King Valley wine regions produce great examples of these wines. In South Australia, both wines are produced across several regions including the Fleurieu Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley.
International - Alsace, France: sweet, rich, with tropical fruit. Northern Italy: crisp and clean, with citrus flavours. USA: California and Oregon.
The future of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio
Pinot Gris emerged in the late 1990s and quickly ascended to become NZ’s third most planted variety, overtaking Riesling by 2007. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio continue to be popular in New Zealand. Only the most exceptional wines are reserved for cellaring, as both styles are best when opened early. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are light and fresh wines that are well-suited New Zealand’s warm summers and Kiwis love of outdoor entertaining lifestyle. It’s fair to say they’re here to stay.