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Pinot Gris Masters 2019: What did the judges think?

Following the judging of the Pinot Gris Masters last month, we asked our top tasters for their views on what was outstanding, disappointing and surprising.

The wines in the Pinot Gris Masters were judged over the course of one day at Balls Brothers wine bar and restaurant in Adams Court, London on 10 July by (left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Beverley Blanning MW, Susan Hulme MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Andrea Briccarello, and Jonathan Pedley MW

After our full report on The Pinot Gris Masters – which you can read here – we bring you some further thoughts on the competition from a handful of the judges, featuring their views on what was great, but also lacking in the wines from this unique and revealing tasting.

Patricia Stefanowicz MW, judge, Global Wine Masters

Patricia Stefanowicz MW pours samples at the Pinot Gris Masters

What a pleasant surprise! While top-class Pinot Gris is always to be respected wherever it is made, it is so easy for many of us in the in the wine industry to ignore inexpensive Pinot Gris as a ‘girlie drink’ in a pub. Well, not anymore… In this judging day there was excitement at every price point. Within this broad selection of wines the best showed nice definition, juicy flavours, purity and balance.

What I liked: The inexpensive Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris showed lovely custard or peach and passionfruit flavours and balanced acidity with accents of rose petal or orange and lemon zest adding interest. These Under £10 wines seemed best when dry or nearly dry with balanced alcohol and sufficient acidity. Easy-going, crowd-pleasing wines. There were some lovely Pinot Grigio DOC wines from the Veneto and delicious wines from a number of New World countries, New Zealand, especially. Delightful discoveries were a few Pinot Gris from Romania. And, at £10-15 there were some expressive blended wines from New and Old World regions and a few excellent examples of pure Pinot Gris from Friuli and Collio in the far northeastern reaches of Italy.

Above £15 the wines performed well, many garnering high Silver or Gold awards and even a Master or two. At the expensive end were a couple of ‘non-surprises’, one a New Zealand blend and the other a superb Oregon example.

The oaked white Pinot Gris were quite high-priced (£15 and upwards) and all deserving of silvers, golds and even a Master. Beautifully-judged use of creamy oak with no splinters in evidence.

The rosé Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, albeit not a large group nor a category I would normally look for, were actually quite nice and relatively inexpensive, under £15. The rosé Sparkling we tasted was very pretty with strawberry fruit, a rose petal overlay and very gentle fresh yeast.

What I didn’t like as much: Slightly under-achieving were some wines at £15-20. Some of these wines were possibly the least interesting, although a few performed well. Many were simple, crowd-pleasing, but not necessarily at the price?

The other disappointing aspect of the tasting was the inconsistency at all the price bands and in the different regions. Very few disasters, but price didn’t necessarily correspond to quality. Caveat emptor.

Summary: Perhaps not the thrill of the Epsom Derby, but certainly a well-run hunters’ chase. The tasting gave plenty of room for thought and reversed my prejudices against inexpensive Pinot Gris.

Andrea Briccarello, Bisol brand ambassador UK, and judge, Global Wine Masters

Italian wine authority and former top somm Andrea Briccarello at the Pinot Gris Masters

What impact did the tasting have on your perception of Pinot Gris? It was great to see a lot of clean crisp wines, with almost no faults overall. My perception of Pinot Gris is usually of a bland, uninspiring wine with little character, easy to drink on a hot summer day. However, in the tasting I found some great wines with plenty of character and fruit, not hugely complex but balanced with plenty of citrus notes.

Did it confirm or alter any prejudices you may have had? It did confirm the style of the wines: crisp, zesty and easy drinking, but at the same time I found some great interesting countries like Romania, although it was Italy that dominated overall.

What did you like? The Italian wines are still the classic and best when it comes to style and expression of terroir. I liked the fact that there weren’t many oaky or overworked wines.

What didn’t you like? There wasn’t much I didn’t like, and I think you still get quite good wines for your buck with Pinot Gris.

Any surprises? Definitely the Romanian wines and the new world showing great typicity.

Ennio Pucciarelli, head sommelier, Aquavit Restaurants and judge, Pinot Gris Masters 2019

Somm and Italian wine expert Ennio Pucciarelli at the Pinot Gris Masters

What impact did the tasting have on your perception of Pinot Gris? The tasting overall confirmed my perception of Pinot Grigio: a wine that is usually quite light and soft, expressive, with elegant fruity and floral notes, approachable, and a wine that everyone can enjoy.

Did it confirm or alter any prejudices you may have had? In the wine flight we tasted, the wines were what we expected they would have been, with few exception on both sides.

What did you like? I liked that even in a simple and light white wine you can find balance, elegance and pleasure. That is what I am looking for, and it doesn’t matter what the grape is or the provenance of the wine.

What didn’t you like? Like for people, when they want to hide their lack of something, they add accessories, and for wine it is the same, when they miss something winemakers try adding flavours and/or structure with malolactic fermentation, lees ageing, barrel ageing, without considering if the wines can support the added weight. Often you can feel straight away that it’s just appearance, there is nothing behind.

Any surprises? Luckily we found a couple of beautiful Pinot Grigios among many good but ordinary ones. I was particularly impressed by the Pinot Grigio Antica Vigna from Veneto. It was very elegant, particularly floral, with some stone fruit and hints of honey. Refreshing on the palate with a good structure that helps the wine to be a bit longer and it had a great balance. Balance is what makes me want another glass of a wine and suggest it to my guests. And I would highly recommend this one as an aperitif or with the Smörgåsbord selection we have in Aquavit.

Jonathan Pedley MW, panel chair, The Global Wine Masters

Longstanding panel chair at the Global Wine Masters Jonathan Pedley MW at the Pinot Gris Masters

Faults. The overall fault count was low. We had no cases of cork taint (perhaps not surprising given a lot of the wines were under screw cap). More significantly, there were only a couple of wines with hints of reduction. As we have seen across the board in the Masters Series, nowadays winemakers are much better at handling SO² when using screw caps than they were five years ago. There were a few wines starting to show soggy, vegetal aromas (suggesting that they would have been better six months ago) but again this problem was less marked than it has been in the past.

Styles I. The lean, austere “Italian” profile is still very much in the ascendant. That said, we did have some rather good riper “Alsace” style wines. Possibly the surprise of the day was how well the oaked flight (wines 138-142) did – picking up two Golds. Clearly Pinot Gris can work well with carefully handled oak. A touch of leesiness added further complexity in at least one case.

Styles II. I was conscious that the acidity level on most of the wine was no higher than medium. In most cases this was enough to provide balance but I think that going forward, in the light of climate change, producers of Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris will need to keep an eye on pH/TA: otherwise in future a lot of wines may become flabby and prone to rapid oxidation.

Flights. The sole sparkling wine was simple but pleasant (wine 100).  The big bracket of <£10 bottles performed as expected: a lot of competent but unexciting wines (most of which picked up Bronzes), a smattering of more characterful ones (a few Silvers) and one star (awarded a Gold). We spotted a big jump up in quality when we moved into the £10-15 flight. We put this down to the use of better quality fruit – probably lower yields and later harvests. Our Gold in this price range went to a wine that showed a bit of sur maturité. There were some interesting wines in the higher price brackets (£15-20 and £20-30) but also a marked divergence in style: “Italian”, “Alsace” and “Oaked”. As ever in such cases, getting a clear message to the consumer as to what they can expect in the bottle is important.

Origin. It was no surprise to find that the majority of the wines came from Italy and that quality varied dramatically. It was also no surprise to get the impression that many of the best Italian examples came from Trentino/Alto Adige. What we had not expected was to find that one of our Golds came from Romania and one of our Silvers from Moldova. New Zealand (Marlborough) and Australia (Clare Valley) also did well. I am afraid that California showed poorly: the two examples that we tasted were flabby, confected and clunkily sweet.

About the competition

Further judges at the Pinot Gris Masters 2019 included Beverley Blanning MW (left) and Susan Hulme MW

The Global Wine Masters runs a series of blind-tasting competitions throughout the year focused on varieties – from Chardonnay to Cabernet – and wine styles, from rosé to sparkling, along with judging sessions on key regions to shine a spotlight on wine quality and style in a particular place, such as Rioja, Champagne, Tuscany and Prosecco.

The wines in the Pinot Gris Masters were judged over the course of one day at Balls Brothers wine bar and restaurant in Adams Court, London on 10 July by Andrea Briccarello, Beverley Blanning MW, Ennio Pucciarelli, Jonathan Pedley MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, Susan Hulme MW, and Patrick Schmitt MW.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the opportunity to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0)20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at:


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