Taking Pinot Gris Seriously

Taking Pinot Gris Seriously

Amongst the pundits in Australia there is a tendency to dismiss the grape pinot gris as a contender for serious wine. Maybe it was an attitude thing, promoted by some of our senior wine judges due to its early adoption by the Chardonnay Set as a socially acceptable quaffer, or possibly because its quality in Australia just did not stack up.

This attitude is not shared by the administrators of the French Appellation system (Appellation d’Origine Protégée or AOP) who declared that, of the fifty-five Grand Crus of Alsace, nine are pinot gris. Their names include Brand, Rangen and Sporen from various sites in Alsace on a range of soils from volcanic to calcareous (chalky) in origin and composition.

When I worked in Alsace, the latter time with Zind Humbrecht in 1974, pinot gris was indeed taken seriously and its quality peak was manifested in the Rangen de Thann Clos-St Urbain Grand Cru from the Rangen site in Thann. Admittedly, riesling dominates the varietal Grand Crus of Alsace but pinot gris is a stalwart and the AOP does not confer Grand Cru status lightly.

Slightly off-putting is the tendency in Alsace to harvest great sites late and make botrytis-enriched wines, sometimes without changes to the labelling. This can lead to problems in gastronomic matching where the slightly tannic, refreshing qualities of pinot gris lend it to be matched with richer meats like pork belly and pig’s trotters, but this harmony maker fails if the wine is sweet.

Serious pinot gris are age-worthy. To test this attribute on the APOGEE Alto Pinot Gris I recently opened both the 2013 and 2016, two notable vintages. These wines were very pale in their youth despite being relatively late-picked (but always made into dry white table wines).

The photo (below) shows their slow but serious evolution of colour, serious in that the gold tints are restrained and in the grey-green colour spectrum, which are indicators of quality and longevity.