I recently tasted 130 samples of New Zealand wines labelled as “Pinot Gris” and one example labelled as “Pinot Grigio”. When a wine is labelled as Pinot Gris I expect it to be modelled after the luscious, opulent and rich wines from the Alsace region of France. When the wine is described as “Pinot Grigio” I anticipate it being crisp, lean and racy like a typical Italian Pinot Grigio.
The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) carried out a study of both models and, after tasting a large number of wines labelled as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, they arrived at a 10-tier range of styles from pure Pinot Grigio (1 point) to pure Pinot Gris (10 points). Following the study, the AWRI launched a website www.pinotg.com.au and encouraged wine producers to send them wine samples which they will analyse and rate according to style. A wine that is half way between the two extremes, for example, would get a rating of 5 points. That rating can then be displayed on the back label as a style guide for consumers.
I think that the rating is a good idea in the same way that the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) offers a useful scale showing each wine’s sweetness calculated from residual sugar, acidity level and pH. The IRF scale allows the winemaker to make the calculation rather than having to send samples for analysis. It is also simpler to understand. For those reasons it is likely to be more widely adopted and understood than the AWRI Pinot Gris/Grigio scale.
Pinot Gris has a higher perceived value in the eyes of consumers, which probably explains why only one producer, Poderi Crisci, has chosen to make Grigio (tastings) rather than Gris. The wine, incidentally, is too rich and weighty to be classified as a Pinot Grigio in my view. Although it is dry, I found it to be more Pinot Gris-like perhaps 6-points (full, round and silky) on the scale.
While most of the wines labelled Pinot Gris did conform to my definition of that style, a few leaned toward the Pinot Grigio end of the style spectrum.
Church Road 2014 McDonald Series Pinot Gris, Hawke’s Bay (tasting) and Bilancia 2013 Reserve Pinot Gris (tasting) are both classic examples of the rich and spicy Alsace model. Astrolabe 2013 Kekerengu Coast Pinot Gris, Marlborough (tasting) and Black Barn 2014 Pinot Gris, Hawke’s Bay (tasting) are more Pinot Grigio-like.