Brian Walsh, chief winemaker for Yalumba winery, thought he had a surefire product for a U.K. market besotted with Italian Pinot Grigio. A couple of years ago, he and his talented white wine specialist, Louisa Rose, made their new Pinot Grigio in a style more associated with wines labeled as Pinot Gris, as the same grape is known throughout most of the rest of the world. It had lively balance and more tangy citrus and melon flavors than most Italian examples, which can taste surprisingly similar to water.
"They said it was too flavorsome," he recalled over lunch last week in Napa. "They would not buy it."
Fortunately for Yalumba, its Pinot Grigio South Australia Y Series found favor with Australian customers, and it has also done well in the U.S. The $13 price tag is about right, too, coming in a tad below comparable Italian and other New World wines labeled with that version of the grape's name.
Which raises the question: What's in a name? In the New World, most vintners tend to use Grigio on their labels for light, crisp styles similar to Italian bottling, Gris for fuller-bodied, darker-hued wines such as those Alsace produces. But there is no legal definition, just as there is no legal distinction between Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc.
That’s as true in Australia as it is anywhere else in the New World. In the past year, I have reviewed 15 Aussie wines in the category, all but three called Pinot Grigio. The Aussies are not stupid. They know the wine masses know the Italian name better. My ratings range from 83 to 88 points, priced at $8 to $20. Some are tart and simple, others silky and seductive. Yellow Tail exported more than a half-million cases of its 2008 Pinot Grigio to the U.S., making it the most widely available. It's a very good wine for easy sipping. My favorite, however, was the light and persistent Redbank Pinot Gris The Long Paddock 2009.
The trickiest part is that not all Pinot Gris/Grigio fits neatly into such an either-or pair of categories. The wines lie along a range of styles, from watery to thick and rich. Though most are dry, some have some level of sweetness (as most Pinot Gris from New Zealand, for example). Alcohol levels range all over the board.
Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the Aussies went to work on a solution. The Australian Wine Research Institute, which is funded by the wine industry and the Australian government, came up with the PinotG Style Spectrum, which features a sliding scale graphic that vintners can use on their labels. It is meant to indicate where the wine fits along nine stops in a spectrum from "crisp, lean and racy" to "luscious, opulent and luxurious." You can see the details at the PinotG Style Spectrum website.
Being scientists, they had no intention of letting the criteria rely on anything as imprecise as simple tasting. So they developed tests, focusing on spectral analysis, and confirmed the results with tasting. They now offer the graphic indicating the results to any winery that submits its Pinot Gris or Grigio for fingerprinting.
The same sort of stylistic mystery applies to other categories as well. If this ultimately works in the marketplace for Pinot Gris/Grigio, maybe the smart guys can figure out how to help us sort out Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc (a similar Riesling Taste Profile graphic from the International Riesling Foundation is making its way to store shelves as well).
Rosane Hayes — Albq, NM USA — November 4, 2010 11:29pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — November 5, 2010 1:04am ET
Pacific Rim Winemakers — Portland, OR — November 5, 2010 7:58pm ET
David Williams — Carlsbad, CA — November 7, 2010 8:59am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — November 7, 2010 1:47pm ET
Kevin Foley — Philadelphai, PA — November 7, 2010 3:46pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — November 7, 2010 3:49pm ET
Kevin Foley — Philadelphai, PA — November 7, 2010 3:57pm ET
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