“It’s important to have portions of skin contact when producing pinot gris”, says Central Victoria winemaker Owen Latta. “It’s a light red grape variety, there’s so much texture, vibrancy and interest in those skins that needs to be captured to influence the wine.”
To suggest that pinot gris (or grigio!) is a red grape variety is controversial to many winemakers, let alone confusing to most drinkers. Surely the crisp, grassy, bright grigio wines from the variety’s spiritual home in northeast Italy are as clear and distinctly white wine-y as the slippery, unctuous, pear-laden whites of gris from the French heartland in Alsace?
Italian wine importer Giorgio de Maria swings the other way, however. “It is long recognised as a red grape from the traditional winemakers of grigio”, he states. “The ancient knowledge of the variety traditionally sees skin fermentation as intrinsic to the making of wines from grigio. The skin fermentation helps preserve the wine, with tannin and phenolics, the colour that occurs from this is pink to garnet red depending on time macerating, but it all points to showing the true personality of the variety.”
The debate will long continue, no doubt, but a rising tide of Australian winemakers are embracing the idea that rosé-ish through to lighter red styles produced from skin fermentation of gris/grigio are of interest and delivering some distinct and compelling wines.
Owen is winemaker for his family’s outstanding Eastern Peake label, reserving his more experimental and creative work for his eponymous Latta Vino. For several years he has released ‘Ex Nihilo’, a grigio that sees varying time fermenting on skins. It’s one of the benchmarks of the Australian vanguard of skin fermented gris/grigios, eking out more serious textural nuance and delivering a complex, layered expression in varying hues.
Canberra District vigneron Bryan Martin, ex-Clonakilla winery and now deeply invested in his Ravensworth estate and wine label, is another proponent of skin fermenting gris. He stretches his macerations out to between three and four weeks, and cites, again, northern Italian examples as inspiration. Tannin profile is inherent and sought after, though freshness and a sense of reserve are key to his intended results. Bryan’s suite of releases of ruddy-coloured gris have, like Owen’s, become benchmarks for the style.
Kate McIntyre MW.
Winemaker Kate McIntyre MW of Mornington Peninsula’s Moorooduc Estate is an additional protagonist in the gris-on-skins realm of Australian winemakers. For several years McIntyre has released a skin macerated gris, with nearly three weeks maceration for her 2022 release. The wines lean into their structure and tannin profile but retain inherent freshness and crunch. Each release has been an elevation in quality, with winemaking finessed to seasonal vagaries. And though it doesn’t quite settle the debate, it’s pleasing to see a line in the sand when the Moorooduc Estate Pinot Gris On Skins label defiantly states: ‘pinot gris red wine’.
Wines to try
2022 Latta Ex Nihilo Pinot Gris ($36)Sourced from Tarrington Vineyard. Hits the glass with a pink through orange hue. It shows scents of cherry, pear, cinnamon and stone fruit with flavours mirrored. Texture is powdery and somewhat juicy, the finish a corkscrew of fine, drying tannin. High drinkability abounds.
2022 Ravensworth Pinot Gris ($32)From vineyards in Canberra District and Hilltops. A fog of scent on hand with almost Campari and amaro-like qualities married to pear and dried herbs. The palate is cinched and tense with a fine, lacy tannin profile and a blood orange meets pink grapefruit-like tang. Scintillating stuff.
2022 Logan Wines Clementine Pinot Gris ($25)A winner for the pricepoint. It sees around two weeks on skins and is sourced from Orange and Mudgee. Deeply pink in colour, it’s a fragrant and pretty wine, succulent in texture with distinct brown pear and cherry fruit notes dashed with rosehip tea. Thirst quenching and fun to drink.
Top image credit: Wine Australia.