Pinot Gris(April 2018)

The current edition of New Zealand Wines: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide reviews about 300 Pinot Gris. But how many examples of this classic variety, cultivated extensively in Alsace, Germany and Italy, were featured in the first edition, published in 1992?

Six – from Brookfields, Dry River, Gibbston Valley, Larcomb, Matua Valley and Mission. John Thom, of the Larcomb vineyard at Rolleston, south of Christchurch, lamented that ‘Pinot Gris is an orphan grape – people don’t recognise the name.’

They do now. From just 0.3 per cent of plantings in 1992, Pinot Gris now covers 6.9 per cent of the national vineyard. Well over half of the country’s plantings are concentrated in Marlborough (41 per cent) and Hawke’s Bay (17 per cent), but there are also significant pockets of Pinot Gris in Auckland, Gisborne, Wairarapa, Nelson, Canterbury and Otago. Most of the wines in this recent tasting flowed from Marlborough and Central Otago.

What accounts for the dramatic surge of interest in New Zealand Pinot Gris, at home and abroad (in the year to June 2017, almost 800,000 cases of Pinot Gris were exported)? Imagine a wine that, at best, couples the satisfying body and smooth texture of Chardonnay with the inviting perfume of aromatic varieties, such as Gewürztraminer. These weighty, rich, usually slightly off-dry wines are modelled on the benchmark Pinot Gris of Alsace. Others are lighter and crisper, along the lines of Italy’s refreshing Pinot Grigio