Few wines vary in name or nature as much as Pinot Gris and New Zealand’s fresh-faced version is no exception. So what better time than the annual celebration - Pinot Gris Day on 17 May - to take a closer look at the country’s diverse selection and discover why New Zealand Pinot Gris has rocketed in popularity.
The variable New Zealand climate and many talented winemakers have crafted this somewhat fickle grape into a mouth-filling, rich and refreshing option.
Grown right across the country, New Zealand Pinot Gris is closer to the French style - and more akin to Alsace - than the slightly drier or more neutral Italian Pinot Grigio.
In general, wines made from the Pinot Gris grape vary greatly and are heavily dependent on the region and wine making style they are from. This is particularly evident in New Zealand which has arguably some of the most contrasting geography and climatic conditions of any major wine-growing country, within a small distance.
The resulting influence is richer aromatics and texture giving the Kiwi style Pinot Gris a notable point of difference.
Although it has only been on the scene since the early 1990s, New Zealand Pinot Gris has enjoyed a dramatic rise to fame becoming the country’s third most popular white variety.
With annual production now exceeding 28,000 tonnes, Pinot Gris makes up 6% of New Zealand’s total wine production. And while that equates to just 3% of the country’s wine exports, the figure has more than doubled in the past five years.
Once dismissed by diehard Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay fans for its texture and sweetness, today’s New Zealand Pinot Gris is fresh and full flavoured with fruit and spicy notes. The aromas and flavours feature apple, pears, honeysuckle, spice and bread, and in warmer areas can include stone fruit, especially apricot.
The contrast in temperature from New Zealand’s warmer north to the cooler southern regions plays an important role, influencing the range in style from refreshingly light to richly complex.
South Island regions generally produce Pinot Gris with a higher acidity and more pronounced aromatics, while the warmer North Island wine has riper flavours and a more oily mouthfeel.
Marlborough in the north of the South Island is the country’s largest Pinot Gris producer thanks to a maritime climate perfect for grape growing. Hot days and cooler nights add to the complexity of fruit grown here and Marlborough Pinot Gris tends to have greater structure and persistence with a focus on pristine, pure aromatics and flavours of white peach, red apple skin and cinnamon.
In the neighbouring region of Nelson, one of New Zealand’s sunniest regions and a boutique wine growing area, Pinot Gris joins a group of cleverly crafted aromatics. Although a smaller producer with just 122ha devoted to Pinot Gris, the region delivers finely balanced, rich Pinot Gris in a dry Alsatian style with peach and spice flavours and a hint of quince.
In North Canterbury, one of New Zealand’s fastest growing and most exciting wine growing regions, Pinot Gris has made an impressive debut. Plantings may be small but the region -renowned for its aromatic expression and intensity - delivers Pinot Gris with fresh pear, stone fruit, florals and spice, and often touches of quince and fresh hay, plus ginger and cinnamon.
Naturally in Central Otago, New Zealand’s capital of Pinot Noir, the Pinot Gris style is also influenced by the cooler climate. Now with more than 174ha devoted to Pinot Gris, the region’s award winning winemakers are producing finer, lighter-bodied wines with good acidity. Flavours of fresh pear, stone fruit and gingerbread spice add special interest and the wines can also have a little sweetness.
The warmer climates of North Island regions, such as Hawke’s Bay, create versatility and the styles of Pinot Gris typical of this famous wine growing region range from early drinking lighter wines through to rich, powerful, concentrated styles that are aromatic, spicy and bold. New Zealand’s second largest wine region, sunny Hawke’s Bay has been an abundant source of fine wine since 1851.
In neighbouring Tairāwhiti Gisborne, on the sunny east coast, Pinot Gris is the second most planted variety and styles vary in sweetness and fruit intensity, with strong melon and spice aromatics, and rich mouthfeel. Newer clones for the region, as well as careful viticulture techniques, have increased the growers’ capabilities to advance the variety’s potential.
Barrel ageing, fermenting with native, wild yeasts, and lees stirring are common winemaking practices in New Zealand and are credited with building texture, mouthfeel and complexity to enhance the Pinot Gris offering.
With Pinot Gris known by at least 20 different names throughout the world and with such a huge variance in style, there’s masses of scope when it comes to food matching. The gentle acidity and marked fruitiness of a well-balanced New Zealand Pinot Gris perfectly complements roast pork with a stewed pear sauce. It’s also an ideal match with creamy pastas, poultry and seafood. And late harvest sweeter Pinot Gris pairs well with cheese or fresher, lighter desserts.
If you didn’t already know, 17 May is also World Baking Day and, in some parts of the world, it’s National Work from Home Day as well. So there’s every excuse to relax, bake and create, and pour a glass of chilled New Zealand Pinot Gris to discover why this ever evolving variety is enhancing New Zealand’s global wine reputation.
Did you know?
- Pinot Gris translates to ‘grey pinecone’ – referring to the nature of the bunch of grapes and their greyish-blue skin
- Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are both made from the same grape, the difference is location – Pinot Gris originated in France and Pinot Grigio in Italy
- The Pinot Gris grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir and loses colour during fermentation
- Pinot Gris is an ‘early to market’ wine best consumed within 1 – 4 years
- Like other aromatics, Pinot Gris is best served chilled at around 7 deg C
- Adding a touch of Pinot Gris to pastry will make a pie crust or tart more tender and add a hint of sweetness