Given the success of the Kiwis in winning world-wide acclaim for their sauvignon blanc, you can’t blame them for trying to show the rest of the world how to make great pinot gris!

Last week’s New Zealand Wine in A Glass tasting in Sydney gave me a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the very best examples of New Zealand pinot gris. While I confess that pinot gris is not one of my favourite wine styles (I’m a chardonnay and riesling lover) these wines were a revelation. Enticingly aromatic and delightfully clean and crisp, most of the wines I tried revealed an added layer of complexity that made for a very intriguing tasting.

Pinot Gris is starting to hit its stride in New Zealand for a few reasons:

  • As a relatively new variety in New Zealand (plantings have increased by 100% since 2006) only now are the vines beginning to gain a bit of age – an important attribute for adding complexity to the wines.
  • Most of the top examples are made by New Zealand’s family-owned and artisanal producers who tend to treat the variety with kid gloves. For pinot gris, in particular, carefully managing yields and keeping crop levels low are vital for insuring quality.
  • As happened with sauvignon blanc, winemakers are experimenting with new winemaking styles to increase complexity in their wines. Spy Valley, for example, makes its single vineyard label, the Spy Valley Envoy Pinot Gris in the Alsace-like vendange tardive style. The hand-picked grapes are fermented in old oak barriques and then aged on lees for seven months before blending and bottling. The resulting effect is a full-bodied slightly sweet palate of ripe stone flavours balanced by a lively acidity and a long spicy finish.

New Zealand pinot gris also represents excellent value for the quality. Most of the wines I particularly enjoyed retail for around $25. Here’s a list of my favourites:

Ara Single Estate Pinot Gris, Marlborough 2012 $25

Catalina Sounds Pinot Gris, Marlborough 212 $27

Greystone Sand Dollar Pinot Gris, Waipara Valley, Canterbury 2011 $25.95

Lawson’s Dry Hills Pinot Gris, Marlborough 2012 $26

Riverby Estate Pinot Gris, Marlborough 2011 $20

Stanrock Pinot Gris, Awartere Valley, Marlborough 2011 $18.99

Merrill Witt  Merrill Witt, Editor

Note: Check WineSearcher.com for the best prices. The Greystone Sand Dollar Pinot Gris 2011 is available on the Cellarit Wine Market for $25 a bottle.