Wine / Putting ‘always pleasant’ to the test

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“Dull and boring, I’m afraid, has been my experience with a number of pinot gris: they are anodyne. But…” wine columnist RICHARD CALVER tries to keep an open mind.

IT was a confected experience. It was also an attempt at empathy. There’s always more than one point of view. But it’s easy to forget that your own point of view is not the only way to look at things, especially when you are as opinionated as me! 

Richard Calver.

A friend’s favourite wine is pinot grigio or, if pressed (pun intended), pinot gris. The difference? According to “Wine Folly”, (the reference work my daughter purchased as part of getting a certificate in wine appreciation) there is none. 

The “Good Food” website though explains the difference is based on region, which makes sense given grigio is Italian and gris is French for “grey”:

The short explanation of their difference is that gris is based on the French Alsace style, riper and richer, with more alcohol and sometimes a little sweetness; grigio is based on the Italian model, lighter and simpler with less alcohol.

Figuratively, grey connotes dull and boring and that, I’m afraid, has been my experience with a number of pinot gris: they are anodyne. But my friend said that this varietal was “always pleasant” and was surprised by the number of taste differences from the one varietal. So, I invited her and a mate who knows a lot about wine to taste two pinot gris.

One was from my adoptive homeland, NZ, and the other a local wine; both 2019, and both at around the same price point. The first is a Church Road Hawkes Bay pinot gris, a vineyard I visited last year where I tasted its 2018 pinot gris, in fact most of its range. The second: a Mount Majura vineyard Canberra District pinot gris, a vineyard I have often visited but whose pinot gris I have not previously tasted. 

When I purchased a bottle of the Mount Majura from Jim Murphy’s in Fyshwick, the seller told me that this was the winery’s most popular wine. It was $23.49 because I bought five other wines at the same time, one of which was the Church Road at $22.98. The Kiwi was higher in alcohol at 14.5 per cent with the local at 12.5 per cent.

I served rye bread, smoked ham and capers as well as water to ensure that we had some food with the wine and water to clean the palate. 

And my mate then threw a curveball: he said that we couldn’t just taste from the New World and produced a 2018 Dopff au Moulin pinot gris from Alsace. I rudely asked him the price (for reasons of comparison) and he said it was a nudge over $20 a bottle at Dan Murphy’s. It is also 12.5 per cent alcohol by volume. 

We started with the Kiwi. On the nose there was pear and a sweet spice, not quite ginger. The first mouthful presented a good balance of sweetness and acid and was long on the finish although leaving a slightly gravelly taste. It was pleasant but not extraordinary. 

The Mount Majura had a similar nose with pear dominant but a more nutty, almond character. On taste it was much more acidic than the Kiwi and had a greater intensity. When we had the food each of us thought that the Mount Majura opened up and became the hero of the two, losing the acidic bite on first taste and complementing the ham and bread. 

The French interloper was a surprise: it was a great deal sweeter than its southern hemisphere rivals. It was rich and full with a honeyed flavour. It complemented the capers with their salty tang. For my tastes, it was the winner but my friends were still murmuring praise for the local as it changed so markedly and evolved so well as a food wine.

I won’t be stocking up on pinot gris but the experience was rewarding and made me appreciate another perspective. 

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”  –Ansel Adams 

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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