When I reviewed my Wines of the Week from last year, I was quite surprised to see that Pinot Gris had not been selected, not even once. Surprised, because in the latter part of 2005, when the early drinking white wines from 2005 were being released to the market, I was really impressed with the quality of 2005 Pinot Gris wines that I tasted. In an article for FoodService magazine (Nov '05), I wrote how excited I was about the vintage's Pinot Gris wines, because instead of a host of wines that oozed neutrality with their bland flavours, there was wine after wine that actually had something exciting to savour.
The wine show awards backed up my opinion, with the Air NZ Wine Awards resulting in 5 gold medals for the variety, the NZ International Wine Show awarding 4 gold medals (one later disqualified as unable to meet quantity commitments) and the Liquorland Top 100 awarding another two.
What had changed? Why was Pinot Gris suddenly hot to taste?
The Lawsons, of Lawson's Dry Hills in Marlborough had one answer.
"The cool season in 2005 worked in favour of all the varieties and in particular the Pinot Gris, allowing the development of concentrated flavours while retaining natural acid levels," they said.
They know what they are talking about because the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005 went on to win gold medals and Trophies for Champion Pinot Gris at both the New Zealand International Wine Show and at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
While I had exhausted most of my Pinot Gris stocks by early December, there were a couple of late arrivals left for tasting when I opened some wines last week. It was a surprise when the top wine of the tasting was the Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005.
Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris has been a bit of an enigma to me in the past. It's been well reviewed by my colleagues but there's something I was obviously missing. I remember last year, when I tasted a line-up of the 2004 vintage Pinot Gris wines, there was one I rejected as being slightly odd, perhaps with very subtle cork taint. The wine did have a cork in it and there was a backup bottle, so that was opened and inserted as a replacement into the line-up. However the replacement wine tasted exactly the same. It was the Isabel Pinot Gris. Then later the same thing happened with the Isabel Chardonnay. I put it down to the yeast, or something in the winemaking process because both wines seemed to come right the next day.
Now, with the Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005, I can find no faults. The wine is sealed with a screwcap and it's clean and fresh while beautifully displaying its varietal character when tasted at the right temperature.
I first tasted it with only very light chilling, just 10-15 minutes in the refrigerator to take that summer room temperature edge off it.
It's light yellow gold in colour, clear and bright, with tiny bubbles clinging to the sides of the glass. The bouquet is temptingly aromatic with rich scents of pear drops and creamed nuts, and a fragrant floral character, like Queen of the Night, far off in the distance. It tastes bright and zesty with the petillance in the glass continuing with a spritzy dance across the tongue before flavours of citrus, apples, pears and a touch of tropical fruit are revealed. It's a warm, full-bodied wine with honeysuckle and zesty citrus on the finish and perhaps even a touch of ginger as it lingers.
The next night the wine was tasted after being in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Chilling completely subdues the aromas and makes the wine appear citrussier with lime and honeyed toffee characters dominant in the palate. As the wine warmed up, the aromas became lime blossom-like. I really wouldn’t want to chill this wine for more than 1/2 an hour, otherwise the pure Pinot Gris flavours are masked by the acidity and makes it taste more like Riesling.
Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005 costs $26.95 from the winery. It carries 12.5% alcohol by volume with 7.1 grams per litre total acidity and just 3.3 grams per litre of residual sugar, which makes it technically dry.
Find out more from www.isabelestate.com.
© Sue Courtney
15 January 2006