by: Darby Higgs
One of the most popular imported wine styles in America is Pinot grigio. Nearly all of the Pinot grigio consumed in the US comes from Italy, but as we shall see this is likely to change soon. Pinot grigio is very popular with consumers, but it receives mixed reviews from wine judges and wine critics.
One reason may be that wines made from Pinot grigio do not have a consistent and distinctive varietal character. Consumers are just attracted to the crisp which goes well with a wide variety of foods.
Another problem is that there are two names for the variety in common use. The names Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris mean Grey Pinot in Italian and French respectively. ‘Pinot’ refers to the characteristic pine one shaped bunch of this group of varieties.
In Australia, winemakers, marketers and wine writers haven’t really sorted out which name to call the variety. Some have dodged the issue and refer to “Pinot G.” This variety closely is related to the much better Pinot Noir variety and is believed to be a mutation of Pinot Noir. In fact in the vineyard Pinot grigio is difficult to distinguish from its putative ancestor until the berries ripen when those of the grigio will have much less pigment. There is another variety, Pinot blanc which has little or no pigment in the berries.
There is considerable clonal variation within the variety. Jancis Robinson says that the variety hardly knows if it is a dark or a light grape. It has several synonyms including Burot and Malvoise in France and Rulander and Tokayer in Germany. In Europe the variety is widely planted. Given the inherent variation and geographic dispersion it is hardly surprising that a wide range of wine styles are produced from it. In Alsace under the name of Tokay d’Alsace, it produces a rich, almost oily wine. In Northern Italy the Pinot Grigio’s are light and even spritzig. Under the name of Rulander in Germany it produces wines somewhat similar to white burgundies.
The variety has attracted serious interest in Australia only over the past few years. It is now producing some remarkable wines in regions such as the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and the Adelaide Hills. Casella wines in the Riverina wine region are very interested in this variety. They believe they can make first class wines even in warmer wine regions, and are devoting some resources to developing a wine suitable for export to the US. Remember Casella is the company who developed the yellowtail range of wines which exploded onto the US market a couple of years ago.
There is a great deal of experimentation with the variety and it may take several more years before the optimal combination of terroir and winemaking technique emerges. In the meantime some great wines are already available for those who are looking for new experience. The style varies from light bodied and fairly straight forward to rich and complex wines that are almost overwhelming in their voluptuousness. This is one occasion when reading some tasting notes about a particular wine before buying is worthwhile.
About The Author
Darby Higgs is an expert on varietal wines in Australia. You can see more about pinot grigio on his website at http://www.vinodiversity.com/pinotgrigio.html.