One of my all time favorite wine makers from “Down Under”, Rod Easthope, makes killer wines and one of his best is his latest Pinot Gris. He recently posted to a forum I follow a great discussion of what it takes to make a great Pinot Gris, so with his permission I am reposting it here for the benefit of my readers. I hope you all enjoy it and learn as much from it as I did.
Geneticists can’t separate Pinot Noir from Pinot Gris. It maybe just one gene, or the expression of that gene that distinguishes the two. Despite this, the wines produced from each are a world apart. Pinot Noir produces the most expensive red wine in the world (Domaine de la Romanee Conti) and there is more written about Pinot Noir than any other grape. Pinot Gris, on the other hand, is virtually forgotten by wine commentators. Consumers also have low expectations of Pinot Gris. So why is it so popular? Why is it now the third most planted white variety in New Zealand? Why are swathes of innocuous Pinot Grigio guzzled all over the world with little consciousness of its quality?
A non-wine industry friend recently brought a bottle of Pinot Gris to our house and I asked her why she chose a Pinot Gris. She responded “I just like to say Pinot Gris”. This may sound silly, but it is actually quite revealing. Wine is an intimidating product and while we wine aficionados like to make wine the centre of attention – most consumers only need wine to play a supporting role in their culinary and social life. Many modern wines from more assertive grape varieties don’t do this job well – they are wines that demand to be the centre of attention. Pinot Gris is more than happy to play second fiddle. Well-made it is delicate, lightly aromatic, and deftly sweet and dry at the same time. This is why it is so versatile with a range of food and it is also why you can reach for the bottle and it is surprisingly empty – consumed without a thought.
But what is “well-made”? Pinot Gris left unchecked in the vineyard will produce large crops of semi ripe grapes with little flavour or extract. Many winemakers then make up for this by leaving excess residual sugar. These versions are bland flat lemonade wines. Or, the grapes are picked early, fermented dry to make those lean Grigio styles. However, if we acknowledge Pinot Gris’ noble parentage, then we can assume that it will respond to vine husbandry normally reserved for more “noble” cultivars. Suddenly we have extract and flavour. Yet the wine will still be quite shy and subtle, and if the palate balance is not bang on then those attributes can be smothered. And here is the crux of the goldilocks effect; not too sweet and not too dry. It has to be just right. Nail this down and quality Pinot Gris will sing. Elusive florals (notably rose and jasmine), delicate fruits (nashi pear, gala apple), dusting of spice (cinnamon) and a cool fruit palate. Sounds pretty good to me.
One of the things I like so much about Rod, besides his wine, is his willingness to share his knowledge of Wine and Wine making in a way that makes sense to lay people. This was another example of just that. If you have comments just post away and I’ll make sure that they get back to Rod. Include an e-mail address if you like and I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard back from him directly.