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Wine of the Week for week ending 6 Dec 2009
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Blackenbrook Pinot Gris 2008
Nelson, New Zealand

When the latest batch of wines arrived and I entered then into the database, I was amazed to see a Pinot Gris with an alcohol of 15% by volume.
"That's pretty grunty for Pinot Gris," I thought.
It worried me a little because people will pour a glass, and a normal glass pour would be closer to two 'standard' drinks, than one, and no one would know. The bottle said this had nine standard drinks - that calculates out to 83ml a 'standard drink' pour. Even a small wineglass holds about 120ml (6 pours from a bottle) and most hold a little bit more. A couple of glasses at after work drinks and it wouldn't be long before you were over the limit.

I was at home, though, and not driving anywhere.

There were seven Pinot Gris and one Viognier to taste and my trusty manservant poured them for me so I could taste the wines blind.

"Surely I will be able to pick out the high alcohol wine and surely I will be able to pick out the Viognier", I thought

I thought the alcohol would be out of balance and the finish would be hot and I would score the wine down accordingly. But that wasn't how things turned out at all.

The top wine, as you may guess because I am writing about it, was the Pinot Gris with the alcohol coming in at 15%. However, before the wines were unveiled, I thought it was the Viognier.

Later in a chat room, I referred to more learned friends from American and Europe, those who drink more Alsace versions of Pinot Gris, than I do.

Despite the teasing that the wine was getting better with every glassful, I was assured that yes, there are high alcohol versions out there and some of those wines appear balanced regardless of the alcohol.

"Were you drinking Zind-Humbrecht?" someone asked.
"No, this was a wine from Nelson, New Zealand." I replied.

Wikipedia, that great source of knowledge, states "The grape grows best in cool climates," (and New Zealand is definitely cool climate), "and matures relatively early with high sugar levels. This can lead to either a sweeter wine, or, if fermented to dryness, a wine high in alcohol."

The wine was Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 - a ripe, sweet-fruited wine that is so fragrant, so aromatic, with scents reminiscent of freshly cracked macadamia nuts and freshly cut ripe apricot that you could be forgiven for think it is Viognier when you know you have one in the tasting. In the mouth it simply seduces with its gorgeous seamless texture that flows across the tongue and coats the insides of the cheeks. It's a full-bodied wine that seems rich and luscious with some spice and spritz but finishes dry with vanilla, macadamia and apricot the lasting memory.

The technical notes on the Blackenbrook website say that the grapes were ripe when picked. In the winery the grapes were whole bunch pressed and the juice gravity fed to the stainless steel fermentation vessels for a cool ferment that was stopped at 8 grams per litre of residual sugar. More sugar than I thought because there is dryness to the finish though later, when tasted with seafood, the sweetness is more noticeable.

So there you go. Dry, high alcohol Pinot Gris is not a rarity and although the Blackenbrook is not totally dry, I wonder how much alcohol would have been achieved if the wine had been fermented to total dryness. But ferment had been stopped when the wine was in balance, and that is a great achievement. I can't believe how good this wine is even with 15% alcohol. It has lovely balance, flavour, mouthfeel and length.

Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 costs about $23.90 a bottle. It has a screwcap closure. Find out more from Blackenbrook website.

© Sue Courtney
29 Nov 2009

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