The problem with pinot gris – sommelier Joseph Burton explains »

Gris or grigio.  What’s the deal?

By Joseph Burton
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Pinot Gris barrel at Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Pinot Gris barrel at Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©Ocean Eight]

Joseph Burton, Sommelier


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 (the 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 (gris means grey in French, a reference to the grape's skin colour.)

The Italians call theirs grigio. But 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 confusion arises when other factors get in the way, especially 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, 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 grape 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!


Joseph Burton was the Sommelier and Manager of The Source Restaurant, MONA from Feb 2011 to until September 2014, and has since started his own business, Joseph Burton Wines.

Joseph was the first certified sommelier in Tasmania and is the most awarded sommelier in Tasmania. He is certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and a member of the International Sommeliers Guild.

He has won the Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine Wine List of the Year award for Tasmania eight times, including 2014, was a finalist in the Best Sommelier of Australia Competition 2011, and a national finalist in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Sommelier Competition 2012.

Previously he was sommelier at
Me Wah Restaurant whose awards you can see here »

Joseph developed and curated the wine list that won the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Australia's Wine List Of The Year Awards and Tasmania's Best Wine List for 3 Consecutive Years – Hall Of Fame


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November 26th, 2014
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