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Several shades of grey

Wednesday is analysis day when we usually look beyond what to buy and delve a bit deeper.

Today that takes us into the world of a particularly versatile grape.

I have spoken before about the differences between wines labelled “pinot grigio” and those labelled “pinot gris”.

At their most fundamental, they are simply the Italian and French names for the same grape – but they differ appreciably in style.

Despite the higher sales of pinot grigio, the grape is French in origin but, in its motherland, is principally associated with Alsace these days.

So, what exactly is the difference

Wine made anywhere in the world in the Italian style (and, thus, labelled pinot grigio) tends to be light, floral, ripe and peach centred.

Pinot gris on the other hand is usually fuller, spicier, more textured with citrus fruit and, often, a touch of sweetness.

Terroir, tradition and winemaking account for many of the differences between pinot grigio and pinot gris but there are also variations between versions of pinot gris itself.

Today I want to look at those variations with particular emphasis on two countries on opposite sides of the world. 

Within New Zealand, pinot gris has become immensely popular and now has the fourth largest acreage among the country’s grape varieties.

It seems to be the “go to” white in the smart wine bars of Auckland.

Versions can come from warmer parts such as Gisborne and Hawkes Bay or from South Island wine regions like Marlborough and Central Otago.

Meanwhile, back in Alsace, soil conditions and – especially – climate also allow pinot gris to prosper.

Alsace’s distance from the sea and its Vosges mountains together make it cool and dry which allows grapes to be left on the vines longer and, thus, optimise their oomph.

Indeed, that climate is why late harvested “sweeties” can also be produced in Alsace.

But, for now, let’s just see how mainstream versions of pinot gris compare.

2019 Freeman’s Bay Pinot Gris (£5.99 at Aldi and 13% abv):

This is an excellent example of New Zealand pinot gris with pear and melon fruit, freshness, some texture (embodying just a whiff of honey) but its acidity is boldly lime based and is attractively supported by a hint of tangerine.

Here is a link to the retailer’s website

2019 Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Gris (£10.99 at Waitrose and 12.5%):

We move from Gisborne to the South Island for the next New Zealand pinot gris which also has pear fruit and a faint sweetness but there is rather more texture here.

In addition, there are supporting flavours that bring us ripe tropical fruit and ginger elements while the acidity is a little more muted than in the previous example.

Here is a link to the retailer’s website

2018 Kuhlmann- Platz Pinot Gris Cuvee Prestige (£8.99 at Majestic and 12%):

This is the most balanced of the three Alsace wines we tried with more honey richness than New Zealand usually offers and lemon centred acidity but the main flavours tend more towards peach and oriental fruit and offer greater complexity – introducing touches of mace, ginger and coconut.

This product seems out of stock on-line but is in a number of physical stores- although the price may be different.

2018 Cave de Beblenheim Pinot Gris Reserve (£10.99 at Waitrose and 13%):

Here, alongside pithy grapefruit acidity, we get ripe pear and banana fruit that is soft, aromatic and rounded with just enough honey hints to position it in the middle ground between the other two versions from Alsace.

Here is a link to the retailer’s website

2018 The Best Alsace Pinot Gris (£8.50 at Morrisons and 13.5%):

Our final version is probably the sweetest with ripe pineapple and baked apple fruit, smooth honey and pear flavours containing suggestions of cinnamon but supported by much more muted acidity than any of the others. 

Here is a link to the retailer’s website although it is not labelled “The Best” there.

IN SUMMARY THEN:

  • Pinot gris from anywhere will probably have more texture and citrus influences than the riper and more floral wines labelled as pinot grigio.
  • New Zealand versions are likely to be lighter but with more strident acidity than those from Alsace.
  • Pinot gris from Alsace will be rounder with more depth and more pronounced honey components but well-balanced versions also offer us lemon or grapefruit acidity too.
  • For food matches, I like New Zealand versions with pan fried sea bass – just on its own as a first course.
  • Alsace versions, for me, are good companions for roast pork although some folk actually prefer them to riesling with Thai cuisine.

Back on Friday folks with a couple of recommendations to light up a February weekend.


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Comments

4 Comments

Eddie Walker

Very informative and enjoyable to read as ever Brian. I’ve been a big fan of that Aldi bottle since it first appeared, especially at the money! Would be happy to have something from you on here along similar lines with your thoughts about Chenin Blanc in general and particularly Savennieres that seems is often rare over here and expensive if you can get it! And indeed, would you even bother under those circumstances when there is so much decent white around to satisfy anybody’s tastes at such knockdown prices as these Pinot gris are?

Fred Chrystal

Agree with Eddie, the Aldi Freeman’s Bay gives outstanding value at a “give-away” price and as you say Brian, offers that element of bold acidity that makes for a racy mouthful. Aldi scores yet again.

Brian Elliott

They certainly do score again. And, of course, did so with that Jean Claude Mas rosé I featured a week or two back. Aldi’s new lines for 2020 are due to be revealed early next month so there may be more surprises ahead.

Brian Elliott

Thanks for your kind words, Eddie, and I am glad that you also view that Freeman’s Bay Pinot Gris as exceptional value. I will put Chenin Blanc down as a possible future feature especially as Loire versions are getting so good nowadays and there are interesting comparisons to be had with South Africa. Thanks for the idea ….. Best ….. Brian


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