Pinot Grigio has become one of the most popular grape varieties in the world, but suffers from a reputation for being fresh but simple. Is that fair, or is the grape getting a quality Renaissance? The grape has at least two distinct faces. Native to France, where it is known as Pinot Gris, it produces rich and textured wines in the northeast region of Alsace, thanks to winemaking initiatives such as oak treatment and lees-ageing. In northeast Italy, in the Alto Adige (Delle Venezie DOC), where it is known as Pinot Grigio, it delivers lighter, crisper styles. 

To mark International Pinot Grigio Day, we investigate the grape’s growing presence in Australia. Generally speaking, Australian expressions combine the best of both France and Italy, delivering fruit and texture but freshness, too. 

Frank Moreau MS, group general manager (beverage) at hospitality company Merivale in Sydney, says that Italian Pinot Grigio is in high consumer demand, at different price points, but that Australian Pinot Grigio is the second most popular, with a little from New Zealand also entering the market. “We find less demand for Alsace Pinot Gris as the consumer gets confused with sweetness levels. The Australian consumer is looking for dry-style wine, in general”. 

Cool-climate King Valley is the driving force behind this favoured fresh and lean Pinot Grigio, in the northern Italy style. “The Italians who settled in the King Valley are the producers who are driving these vibrant styles” says Annette Lacey MW, group beverage manager of venue/event group Solotel, headquartered in New South Wales. The Flying Winemaker produces a King Valley Pinot Grigio, which is definitely in this vibrant style. “Consumers love the refreshing minerality,” says Eddie McDougall. “However, when it comes to Australian Pinot Grigio, there is more concentration and mouthfeel as compared to the Italian style, which can be quite linear”. 

It is also making a “nice change” from the pungent Sauvignon Blanc which has long dominated the (white) landscape of Australia, says Lacey, an opinion shared by McDougall, who believes consumers are looking for something more refreshing than Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, without losing fruit character. Pinot Grigio is not “overly aromatic”, he says, but it delivers “beautiful nuances of lush citrus fruit and orchard apples”. 

McDougall sees huge potential for the grape in Australia, a view also expressed by sommelier Matthew O’Hara, of Sydney’s prestigious Restaurant Hubert. O’Hara, who has just been awarded the prestigious RIEDEL Certified Sommelier Dux Sydney 2024 prize, believes that Australia has the potential to produce exceptional, world-class Pinot Grigio/Gris, and that the country is already producing some of the best examples in the world. 

Pinot Grigio is not alone as an Italian varietal thriving in Australia, O’Hara says. “Due to the nature of climate change, and what we have seen in the Australian winemaking industry over the last 50 years, Italian/Mediterranean varieties are the future. We are seeing more and more plantings of these varieties, such as Assyrtiko, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Tempranillo.”


May 17, 2024 — Mark Law