Robert Oatley South Australia Pinot Grigio 2008 ($18, Oatley Wines): The name Robert Oatley doesn't mean a lot to many wine drinkers in America, but those in the wine trade who have followed the success story of Australian wines might be inclined to genuflect before the Ozzie octogenarian. For he is the man who created Rosemount Estate, which in turn became the phalanx that opened the U.S. market to Australian wines. (I remember well the stir that Rosemount Chardonnay caused when it debuted in a blind tasting at International Wine Center in 1985--and stole the show, to the astonishment of tasters who had never before tried an Australian wine.)
Long story short, the Robert Oatley wine brand is, in effect, 'Rosemount, The Sequel.' Oatley sold Rosemount Estate in 2001. Now he is launching this brand, which includes three white wines and a rosé all priced at $18, as well as two red wines priced at $20.
All of the Oatley wines are quite good, as reviews of several of the wines by Robert Whitley and Michael Apstein, in the Reviews section of this site, attest. Of the whites--which also include a Sauvignon Blanc from Western Australia and a Chardonnay from Oatley's Estate vineyards in Mudgee--my favorite is this Pinot Grigio. I like this wine because it tastes good (okay: all the Oatley wines taste good) but also because a) Pinot Grigio from Australia is fairly uncommon, and b) this wine is so much finer than most wines that carry the Pinot Grigio name.
Chris Hancock, who has headed Bob Oatley's wine ventures for more than 30 years, explained to me that the performance of the Pinot Gris grape is very site-specific in Australia. Lots of Pinot Gris grows in areas that are too cool, he believes, and they lack flavor because the grape needs full ripeness to get flavor development. The grapes for this Pinot Grigio come from two relatively warm vineyards in the cool Adelaide Hills--one in the southern part of that area, where the hills are lower, and another in the east, on the dry side of the hills; both the lower altitude and the drier climate promote full ripeness in the grapes.
The ripeness of the grapes is evident at once when you smell the wine. The fairly intense aroma suggests ripe peaches with hints of lemon peel and a stony minerality. In the mouth, the wine is dry and fairly full-bodied with silky texture, crisp acidity and a decent concentration of peach and peach-stone flavor, along with the minerality expressed by the nose. The wine's flavor persists across your mouth all the way to the back and then into the wine's finish. The wine is so well-balanced that tasting it reminds me of finding, in summer, perfectly ripe fruit that still has brisk acidity and has not crossed the line into simple, boring ripeness.
Although this Pinot Grigio is a very easy-to-like wine that will have mass appeal, it is structurally the antithesis of all those fruit-forward (and nothing rearward) whites that flood the mass market. And in its flavor intensity and weight on the palate, it is the antithesis of the typical Pinot Grigio.
I suspect that this wine will work beautifully with a wide range of foods. So far, I can vouch that it is heavenly with a beet salad dressed with truffle-oil, with minestrone soup and with Gouda-style goat cheese. Christmas turkey or ham should be a cinch for it.