The Problem with Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris (and Grigio) has become incredibly popular. Which is weird because fewer varieties suffer from such issues with identity, except maybe merlot, and Riesling
Pinot Gris / Grigio. What’s the deal?
In Theory it’s like this:
In France they ripen the fruit fully, which means the grapes have slightly more sugar (grapes, not wine). When these grapes are fermented into wine, they usually have softer acid, more voluptuous feel and are slightly higher in alcohol. They’re dry but opulent and rich. Alcohol can seem like sweetness, as can lower acid. The French call theirs Gris
The Italians call theirs Grigio (the two are exactly the same variety)
Difference is, the Italians tend to pick their fruit a little earlier so that the berries have slightly less sugar, slightly higher acid and when fermented into wine, the wines are fresh, zippy and dry, with slightly lower alcohol.
The problem is however, that other factors get in the way in the new world (the Southern Hemisphere mostly). The first of these is that there’s no actual laws or rules that govern the labelling term new world winemakers must use. Given this, the marketers will get involved, notice that wines labelled Gris are outselling those labelled grigio this year and insist that regardless of style, they be labelled Gris.
To further complicate the issue, the variety is called Pinot Gris. So technically it’s correct at all times to use the term gris.
How complicated and frustrating is it?
So how do you tell? The short answer is you basically can’t until you taste it or you read about someone else tasting it.
We’ve seen the advent of the Riesling dryness scale in recent months (I think it’s a ludicrous idea as it propagates the notion that Riesling is sweet and sweet is bad)
How about a Grey scale? (Both Gris and Grigio mean grey). Now that’s something that’d be useful.
There’s a 50 shades of grey pun in here somewhere… but instead I’ll say that PG (Pinot Gris / Grigio) needs a PG (Producer Guided) Rating.
“I don’t like Sweet Wines”
The lack of correlation between Riesling and sugar and more generally between sugar and quality in wine
“I don’t like sweet wine” – the most common thing I hear when serving wine to people, followed by the justification “too many sweet wines in Australia in the 70’s and 80’s”
“Yeah it’s nice but it’s a but sweet”
Ok. So, why is wine the only fruit where the presence of natural sugar is considered a bad thing? Nobody ever says “nice mango, but a bit sweet”
I argue that this aversion to sweetness in wine is a purely cultural construct. I believe that the first thing we learn about wine growing up in Australia is that there’s something wrong with sweet wines and if you like them not only is there something wrong with you but you should be ashamed to admit it.
Am I the only one who thinks this is weird?
There’s no relationship between sugar and quality in wine, but the societal view is that a distinct inverse relationship exists. Does this idea not imply that all dry wines are therefore good?
Some wines are sweet, some are dry, some are good, and some are not. Sometimes there’s correlation, there’s no causation.
Riesling is the longest suffering variety when it comes to the question of sugar. Which is in itself strange as most of it is dry. And certainly there’s nothing about Riesling per se that makes it more likely to be sweet than any other variety really.
So we came up with a solution (or did we?) the Riesling sweetness scale diagram on the back label of many Riesling wines in Australia.
Problem is, it propagates the notion that sweetness is more likely in Riesling wines and ergo sweetness is to be avoided.
The great shame here is that Riesling almost always offers the best value for money for solid everyday drinking. It also happens to be the most versatile variety from a food and wine matching perspective.
Spicy food? – Slightly sweet Riesling
Anything with slight natural fruit or vegetable sweetness – Slightly sweet Riesling
All manner of fish, sashimi through to bouillabaisse – Riesling
Washed rind cheeses – Sweet Riesling wines
Perhaps it’s time we stopped telling ourselves what we like and more importantly what we don’t like and enjoy or otherwise what’s in front of us, without the preconceived ideas of what to expect.
It’s fascinating to show people slightly sweet wines (without telling them there’s some sugar left in it) and see how much they actually enjoy it, despite them having told me they don’t like sweet wines. Even better is watching guests drink a slightly sweet wine at twice the rate of the dry one and still claim they aren’t enjoying it!
IT’S OK to like sweet wines.
We should just get over it
August 30, 2014
What happened to the middle?
Recently, there’s been a lot of fuss on social media about the validity of obscure wines from tiny producers or from overseas being over represented on wine lists in Australia.
There’s a lot to be said about it of course, but it seems to me that the glaringly obvious question is “why is the polar opposite of one view being touted as the only alternative”?
Let me give you an example.
For some time, the American Wine Critic, Robert Parker has sung the praises of a very particular wine style. So influential is he in fact, that Bordeaux estates who’ve changed very little about the way they make wine in hundreds of years have begun to change the way their wines ultimately taste in order to receive better scores.
Of course it’s not good. It serves very few people, least of all the consumer.
But, is the only alternative the option that’s furthest away, stylistically speaking?
Is death metal the logical alternative if you don’t like opera?
Is Marxism the only alternative to fascism?
Of course not. But, too often, in all forms of argument, and lately, in wine, the vinous equivalent of the far left is being touted as the only reasonable response in opposition to the mainstream views being promoted by the likes of RP jr.,
I would argue that the proponents of the so called ‘Natural’ wine movement, or more specifically, those that suggest that ‘naturally’ made wines are the only wines worth drinking are just as detrimental to the world of wine as those they oppose.
The poster child of the natural wine movement is Alice Feiring.
The subtitle of one of her books is “how I saved the world from Parkerization’
I’m sorry Alice, but are you kidding me?
What’s wrong with a little compromise? What’s wrong with finding good wines from all along the spectrum? With the wines loved by those two mentioned above and everything in between?
At least Parker doesn’t demand a philosophical observance before even considering trying a wine. He also doesn’t treat people like they’ve not progressed to a point in their wine appreciation (even cultural) development so as to be able to appreciate such wines.
It reminds me of being in high school. You remember… “Yeah Nirvana were great before they sold out… I was in to them before nevermind came out and they went mainstream”
So often, as sommeliers, we bang on about trying to make wine more accessible, more user friendly etc. But as much as we want it to be, it’s rarely only about the quality of the beverage. Funnily, I’ve never once seen the fully biodynamic wine made by Angove’s on any of these lists that only support wines made that way. It’s not just about the wine, it’s also about being “alternative” in the same way people will always tell you that British versions of programs are inherently better than American ones. (I prefer the American version of the office, just saying)
My point is this. Neither Parker nor Feiring is right, outright… And just because you disagree with one of them doesn’t mean you have to completely agree with the other. The vast majority of wine opinion must sit somewhere between these two extremes and anyone who suggests you have to like one style, or even worse, that only one philosophy is valid is contrarian, elitist and simply wrong. If you’re interested in seeing more of either Mr Parker’s or Ms Feiring’s views, check out
Robert Parker Jr.