Pinot gris reveals its secret

Pinot gris reveals its secret

In Jancis Robinson’s epic book Wine Grapes she describes wines made from pinot gris in Alsace, France as having a ‘heady perfume’ and being ‘deep-coloured’, ‘fairly rich’ and ‘luscious’.

Have you ever tasted an Australian pinot gris that tasted remotely like this? Too often the local pinot gris wines are virtually colourless, neutral and flavourless. Pleasant, but undistinguished wines, often labelled pinot grigio. Quaffing wines.

Why is it so? Why does pinot gris generally perform so differently in Australia than in Alsace? The answer is simple: temperature. Most of Australia is simply too hot to tease the best out of pinot gris.

Colmar Estate is very different from most grape-growing regions of Australia. We have a very cool site, a consequence of our high altitude – 980 metres above sea level. And, thanks to La Nina, we have recently had a run of very chilly vintages. So, super-cool growing conditions and very late harvests – in 2023 we picked pinot gris in the third week of April!

The wines have been a revelation. They are simply gorgeous, with lifted aromas and more pronounced fruit on the palate than we have seen in the past. Pinot gris appears to just love cool growing conditions. But why?

When vignerons make decisions about when to pick their grapes they usually consider the amount of sugar in the grapes (sugar ripeness) and the development of flavour in the fruit (flavour ripeness). In warm climates, sugar ripeness in pinot gris tends to gallop ahead of flavour ripeness. So, lots of pinot gris is picked before flavours have had time to develop, hence neutral and flavourless wines.

But in very cool growing conditions the sugar and flavour ripeness in pinot gris are aligned. The grapes stay on the vines longer and the ripening process is slower, allowing full flavour development prior to harvest. The result is pinot gris wines with character, more aroma and greater depth of flavour.

I was of the view that our 2022 Colmar Estate Pinot Gris was the best that we have made, courtesy of the cool, late vintage. But with a repeat of the weather conditions in 2023 the latest version is pushing hard for the title. Tough choice – the 2022 is a little more textural; the 2023 a little finer and more fragrant.

I’m giving my vote to the 2023.