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What our expert thought of Fox-Gordon ‘Charlotte’s Web’ Pinot Grigio

about this wine About this wine
Last week I claimed that Shiraz was the only one of the ‘international’ grape varieties not to be generally known by its French name.  I may not have been entirely correct!  Pinot Grigio has shot to such fame in the last two decades that it must now qualify as an international variety on a par with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  There still isn’t very much of it in the New World, apart from the USA.  But there is a lot in Europe, especially in Italy, and its Italian name is now better known than its original French one of Pinot Gris.
The names Shiraz and Syrah, while referring to exactly the same grape, have become shorthand for different styles of it.  The same is doubly true for Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.  Pinot Gris originated in Burgundy – like Pinot Blanc, it’s a pale-skinned mutation of Pinot Noir – but it’s rare there today.  In fact it’s rare everywhere in France except Alsace, France’s north-east corner bordering Germany, where the wines are overwhelmingly white and, uniquely for France, traditionally labelled by grape variety rather than by village or vineyard.
The three most important – and certainly most prestigious – of those varieties are Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Pinot Gris.  Less aromatic than the other two, Alsace Pinot Gris is a long-lived, full-bodied, golden-coloured wine with intense spicy, peachy flavours.  Even when made completely dry it still tastes off-dry due to its combination of high alcohol and low acidity.
That deep colour is a characteristic of the variety.  Unlike Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio’s mutation hasn’t gone all the way to the greenish-yellow colour of conventional white grapes.  Gris and Grigio mean ‘grey’, and ripe Pinot Grigio berries range in colour from grey-blue to brownish-pink, often in the same bunch.
Its translucent skins (a bit like supermarket red table grapes) aren’t nearly coloured enough to make a red wine, nor even a noticeably pink one under normal cirumstances.  Those cheap Italian Pinot Grigio rosés owe their colour to a dollop of Merlot or some other black grape.  (Most IGT rules allow up to 15% of other grape varieties in a varietal wine without having to declare them on the label.)
That description of Alsace Pinot Gris has so little in common with Italian Pinot Grigio that they seem like two completely different grapes.  The difference is mostly down to ripeness and yield.  In Alsace, Pinot Gris is planted on the best sites and harvested fully ripe, which accounts for its deep colour, high alcohol and low acidity.  Yields are low so the flavours are intense and concentrated.
In northern Italy, Pinot Grigio is mostly planted on flat, fertile, inferior sites where other varieties would struggle to ripen.  Yields are enormous, and the grapes are picked early to avoid the risk of autumn rains.  Usually such under-ripe, ‘green’ grapes would produce overly-acidic, thin, low-alcohol wine, but Pinot Grigio’s innate tendency to low acidity, full body and high alcohol counteracts this.
The result is huge volumes of undistinguished wine that’s nevertheless very easy to drink.  Those who find Chardonnay too heavy (and oaky), Sauvignon Blanc too pungent, Riesling and Muscadet too sharp, will find that Pinot Grigio fits the bill nicely provided they drunk it very young before it loses its freshness.  It has become the default pub white.
This Australian wine is a rare example of a PG from the southern hemisphere.  It comes from a vineyard near Kersbrook in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia’s highest and coolest region.  The front label says Pinot Grigio, but the not-quite-EU-compliant back label shows 13.2% ABV, which is a lot closer to Pinot Gris territory.  (The EU insists on rounding alcohol levels to the nearest half-percent, which is why you often see little back-label stickers on small-volume imported wines. Shh – don’t tell them we forgot!)
the tasting The Tasting
The surprising colour is a medium coppery-bronze, with a faint but definite hint of pink.  This is 100% Pinot Grigio – no black grapes in here – so that colour must be due entirely to fully ripe (hence deeply-coloured) grapes and long pre-fermentation skin contact.
The medium+ nose is a lot more pronounced than most Pinot Grigio, with rich, slightly honeyed aromas of dried tropical fruit, peach, pink grapefruit, and bruised pear.  There’s also a spicy edge of ginger and a noticeable floral component – lilies, which I don’t think I’ve detected on a wine before.
In the mouth this is rich, ripe and fleshy while remaining dry.  It’s full-bodied with just under medium acidity and intense, mouth-filling flavours of nectarine, pear and red apple.
These lead into a long, textured, spicy finish with the sweet fruit tempered by a hint of bitterness and a suggestion of tannin from all that skin contact.  The empty glass smells great, which is always a good sign.  It smells of ginger and, curiously, crispy bacon.
Putting Pinot Grigio on this label practically contravenes the Trade Descriptions Act!  This is Pinot Gris, and it’s as fine as any I’ve tasted from Alsace.  I must confess to not being a huge fan of Alsace Pinot Gris, but this has just enough acidity to keep it fresh and a merciful absence of any residual sugar.
It also demonstrates just how well proper Pinot Gris can age.  Four years old is way over the hill for most Pinot Grigio, yet this wine is still at its peak – it might even improve.  It has gained complexity with age, acquiring those notes of honey, dried tropical fruit and crispy bacon.  It isn’t cheap but it is great value – an Alsace Pinot Gris of this quality and maturity would cost upwards of £25.

Tasting notes

clear medium coppery-bronze - definite hint of pink

Intensity medium+. Rich, spicy & honeyed

Aromas dried tropical fruit, stone fruit (peach), citrus (pink grapefruit), orchard fruit (bruised pear), spice (ginger), floral (lily)

Development developing

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium-

Body full

Intensity pronounced

Flavours ripe, rich, fleshy, stone fruit (nectarine), orchard fruit (pear, red apple)

Length long-

Flavours spicy and textured, with sweet fruit balanced by hint of tannin
Other notes
Unoaked. Empty glass smells great, of ginger & crispy bacon.

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