Pinot What?

This article first appeared in Style Magazine, April 2007

Tyson Stelzer

What do you do when you come up against a wine that you can’t pronounce? Make a garbled attempt and pray that no one in earshot knows any better? Point to the list and hope that someone else will say it for you? Give up and move on to something else?

There’s a world of exciting wines with strange names awaiting your discovery, and a quick lesson in pronunciation will set you up for a good time.

The white grape Pinot Gris (Pee-no Gree) tops the list. It’s related to Pinot Noir but has a greyish skin (gris is grey in French).You’ll also need to be armed with its Italian name: Pinot Grigio (Pee-no Gridge-ee-oh). Language lesson over, it’s time to get on with enjoying the wine.

The French Pinot Gris is like a collision between a fruit bowl and a spice rack, an exuberant wine typically tasting of poached pears and honey. Pinot Grigio is lighter and fresher with zippy acidity.

If you have trouble remembering which is which, don’t worry, because most Aussie and Kiwi winemakers get their Gris and Grigios mixed up as well. There are plenty of examples of both on our shelves, and their names rarely bear any resemblance to the richness of the wine. It seems they are given whichever name the marketing department deems to be the most hip at the time!

Regardless of what you call it, this variety happens to be one of the trendiest thing in the white wine world at the moment. Sales in Australia have taken such a climb in recent years that our winemakers literally can’t plant vines fast enough to keep up.

The places where it performs best are always the coolest spots. Think Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and King Valley (next stop, snow fields!) and virtually anywhere in New Zealand.

From a hot place, Pinot Gris will start to look more than a little overweight, typically with a flabby palate, oily structure and an alcohol afterburn.

In its cool guise, it’s the perfect Queensland lunchtime tipple. It may not have the bracing acidity of Riesling or the in-your-face impact of Sauvignon Blanc, but a light touch of sweetness makes it all the more appealing. Its fruit-focus makes it the ideal partner to all things Asian and it will handle spicy foods with ease.

Don’t overlook Pinot Gris next time you’re on the hunt for something different. It’s guaranteed to perform, and no one will even care if you can’t pronounce it!

Tyson’s Picks

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Grigio 2006, $12
Infused with the cool alpine air of the King Valley, this is an elegant Pinot Gris with a distinguished poise and a flourish of floral aromas. At $12 it can’t be this good! (Widely available)

Chrismont La Zona King Valley Victoria Pinot Grigio 2006, $20
Great Pinot Gris juxtaposes fleshy, succulent poached pear fruit with freshness and fine acidity. Christmont nails this balance. (The Wine Room)

Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006, $29
This is what Pinot Gris is all about. New Zealand’s cool south island injects an icy grapefruit shot into the midst of its delicate apple and spicy pear flavours. (Cru, Era)

Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris 2006, $32
Straight from Central Otago, the most southerly wine-growing region in the world, New Zealand shows just how good this variety can get. Treat yourself to this delightful spicy pear concoction. (Emporium)