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Pinot Gris – grey is the new white

Wine chat with Corrina Baird (a Contentious Character)

Sometimes it seems as though a trend finds its way into many different aspects of everyday life. A case in point is grey. We seem to be surrounded by grey: new grey houses, sleek grey cars, blank grey walls, silver grey technologies. Now pinot gris (literally grey pine) is the fastest growing category of wine in the shops, growing at 13% a year.

The French call it pinot gris, but Italians call it pinot grigio.

It doesn’t matter because we are talking about exactly the same grape but fashioned into different styles. French winemakers pick pinot gris later and riper, for a more textured and luscious drop while Italians like to pick their pinot grigio earlier, for a light, crisp and minerally style.

Italy planted the most acres of pinot grigio (25,000), France 6,000 and Australia slightly more (7,000 acres) in 2013.

From “dishwater” to “must have”

The grey pine is a white mutation of the red pinot noir from Burgundy, but if pinot gris had a spiritual home, it would be Alsace in France. In Australia, this tender little grape grows best in its cooler regions, like Canberra, Tasmania and Mornington Peninsula.

While it was James Busby who brought the grape to Australia in 1832, it was Kathleen Quealy (so-called Queen of Pinot Grigio) and Kevin McCarthy who started to sell their “Pinot G” in the early ‘80s. Before T’Gallant Wines, the sad little pinot suffered some very contentious press indeed:

  • An English wine writer (a truly contentious character) said, if pinot gris were blind tasted beside Evian water, Evian would win
  • One prominent Victorian winemaker claimed pinot gris is “dishwater”
  •  Industry too often abbreviated the grape to PiG.

This just goes to show how things can change! That decrepit warehouse at the edge of the CBD is now a thriving warehouse full of hipsters. So pinot gris/grigio is the white wine of choice in Australia, even if it is grey.

Characteristics of pinot gris

  • Fruits – berries, fruit, citrus, pear, white peach and nectarine
  • Other aromas – herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth
  • Acidity – medium high/high
  • Oak – sometimes made with oak
  • Serve – ice cold
  • Other names – Grauburgunder (Germany), Tokay d’Alsace (ancient)

The tangy and zesty acidity of pinot gris loves to be paired with freshly cut vegetables, raw fish, shellfish and lighter meals, such as soft cheeses.

You can pay $US269 for a Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (winery) 2001 Grand Cru Clos Saint-Urbain Rangen de ThannSéléction des Grains Nobles (designation) Pinot Gris (Alsace). Or you can pay $35 for a Contentious Character Pinot Gris, wooded or unwooded, from Canberra’s cool climate vines. We also have a very special award winning 2009 Pinot Gris for a mere $40.

If you have never tasted a pinot gris, by any name, it is time to try a bottle. After all, grey is the new white.

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