edited by Sue Courtney
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Matakana, New Zealand
New Zealand Pinot Gris is one of the trendiest white wines of the moment. It seems to be what people want to try when they are looking for something different. But why is this wine variety - that most people had never heard of seven years ago - so popular?
It has none of the powerful fruitiness and mouth refreshing pungency that you tend you taste in sauvignon blanc. It is not as fragrantly perfumed as a gewurztraminer, which is often reminiscent of lychees or rose-scented soap or talcum powder. It is not as full-bodied and rich as an oaky chardonnay and it doesn't have the intense fruitiness and acidity of riesling. In fact it is quite a neutral food-friendly wine, which is probably the main thing, apart from its name, that stacks so much in its favour.
Pinot Gris captured people's attention after the Easter Show Wine Awards in early 1999 when three wines from different parts of the country won gold medals. They were the Brick Bay Pinot Gris 1998 from Matakana, the Opihi Pinot Gris 1998 from South Canterbury and the Nevis Bluff Pinot Gris 1998 from Central Otago.
Success for pinot gris quickly followed when the Grove Mill Pinot Gris 1999 from Marlborough won gold in the Liquorland Top 100 International Wine Competition later that year.
Pinot Gris was on a roll. It had proven itself as a great performer from diverse locations within New Zealand, from Matakana in the north to Central Otago in the south. It became a highly sought after commodity but there was still so little being made.
Apart from Grove Mill, pinot gris from the other three producers has kind of taken a back seat. They are small producers with tiny vineyards in relative terms and sell on mail order or export much of their produce. Consequently I havenít tasted a Nevis Bluff or Opihi Pinot Gris for years.
But I have tasted the latest release of Brick Bay, the Brick Bay Matakana Pinot Gris 2003. It's a wine that emulates the gold winning 1998 with its balance and class while retaining the neutral aspect of Pinot Gris well. Good acidity makes it a versatile match to fish, its slight spiciness will complement Asian cuisine, its oily texture complements creamy blue cheese and the apple and pear-like flavours make it excellent with roast pork or chicken. Simply put it is smooth and creamy textured with a good citrussy tone, a spicy backbone and lingering pear and apple flavours with a slightly nutty vanilla nuance on the long winey finish. It is closed with a cork and carries 13.5% alcohol by volume.
As a new vintage becomes available it can be found in a few independent wine shops and selected restaurants throughout the country. Find out where from the Brick Bay website.
The Brick Bay vineyard is being driven through the Rodney region on the side curtains of a huge Transcon truck that is promoting the Matakana Coast Wine Country. The vineyard's panoramic vista over the vines out to Kawau Bay has been used to capture the essence of the region.
Two other pinot gris wines that are new to me and are worth a mention are Tongariro River Estate Pinot Gris 2003 from a vineyard near Turangi on the south eastern side of Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island. Sealed with a screwcap, this smells of pears and lemon drops with a hint of Muscat. It's spicy in the palate with a yeasty influence, an oily creamy texture, pears, stonefruit and lemon, crisp (tart) acidity and a dry finish. A respectable 12.5% alcohol, it should be great with food.
Kerner Estate Marlborough Pinot Gris 2002 is one of the debut wines from Americans Bruce and Joanne Kerner who divide their year between their home in Hollywood and their vineyard in Marlborough. This is a soft, slightly musky, ripe and appealing wine with perhaps a subtle note of oak joining the juicy nectarine and slightly peachy flavours. Just off dry with good palate weight it is seamless in its flow with good balance throughout and a warm rich finish. But watch that whallop from the 14.5% alcohol because it will creep up on you.
© Sue Courtney
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