Pinot gris can be a deliciously fruity wine with a seductively ethereal texture. It can also be a sugary, slightly bitter wine that won’t encourage you to have a second glass.
Thankfully, there are an ever-increasing number of examples of the former, while disappointing pinot gris are going the way of the Dodo.
Pinot gris is becoming more reliable with each passing vintage. If you don’t think you like pinot gris, it might be time to think again.
Pinot gris is an aromatic grape variety. Such varieties tend to have a floral-like aroma. Gewürztraminer (rose petal) and riesling (white wild flowers) are good examples of aromatic wines. While pinot gris is not profoundly aromatic, it often has the scent of honeysuckle.
Pinot gris is a white, or perhaps grey, mutation of pinot noir. It has relatively soft acidity and is often slightly sweet – a feature that can be off-putting for some. Tree-fruit flavours such as pear or apple are common descriptors.
If you like wines with lush, succulent flavours, opt for wines from the North Island. If you prefer crispier, edgier pinot gris, choose wines from the South.
Buying a wine that you haven’t tasted is always risky so take any opportunity to sample pinot gris before handing over your credit card. Visit the winery if you can, or go to a wine tastethon like Winetopia.
I have selected below a handful of pinot gris labels that have consistently performed with distinction over a number of years. If you plan to buy a quantity of different pinot gris, it might be worth inviting a few friends to a "super pinot" party. Buy some of the wines from my list and split the cost with your friends.
If one wine earns a large share of the votes, it could be worth taking orders at the party and negotiating a sharp price from a winery or retailer.
The prices below are from recent vintages and are indicative only. It pays to shop around. Use the wine-searcher.com app to find the best price and most convenient outlet.
Coxs' Vineyard Gibbston Pinot Gris, Central Otago, $53
I tend to favour crisper, edgier pinot gris, which is why I chose this “cool climate” style to head the field. It has a kiss of sweetness but you are hardly aware of it. Poached pear, quince and vanilla tones and an appealing oyster shell minerality set this wine apart from others in my list.
OTU Pinot Gris, Marlborough, $20
Another slightly edgy but also luscious pinot gris with an array of fruit-salad-like tree-fruit and vanilla flavours. Yes, it is slightly sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by vibrant acidity. Great value.
Awatere River Pinot Gris, Marlborough, $25
Off-dry pinot gris with succulent tree-fruit/pear and nectarine flavours. An initial hint of sweetness is perfectly balanced by gentle, fruity acidity. Smooth-textured wine with a deliciously lingering finish.
Domaine Rewa The French Potter Series Pinot Gris, Central Otago, $45
Delicately aromatic aroma with a suggestion of honeysuckle. The palate contributes a backbone of fine, peppery tannins and juicy acidity. Can be enjoyed while it is still young but will benefit from a few years' bottle age.
Clos Ostler Audrey’s Pinot Gris, Waitaki Valley, $70
Weighty, textural pinot gris with nutty yeast lees, pear, apple, honeysuckle and lime flavours. An appealing mix of tree-fruit and savoury flavours. Dry and refreshing. Terrific wine from an emerging wine region in North Otago.
Thornbury Pinot Gris, Waipara, $15.99
Attractive floral/honeysuckle aromas and flavours suggest ripe pear, nectarine and peach with a subtle spicy influence. The wine has a nice sweet/sour balance with some pleasing tension.
Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Gris Marlborough, $19.99
Fresh, bright pinot gris with an array of tree-ripened fruit flavours including pear, quince and apple. A little sweetness is evident on the initial taste but it is nicely balanced by crisp acidity to give a refreshing finish.
Main Divide Pinot Gris, North Canterbury, $21.99
Appealing wine with restrained lusciousness and flavours that suggest tree-ripened pear, ginger, bush honey, pineapple, and peach, supported by fresh, tangy acidity. Old vines deliver extra concentration. Distinctive wine.
Escarpment 'Gris' Pinot Gris, Martinborough, $30
Mellow, fruity pinot gris in an off-dry style with ripe pear, apple, white peach and nectarine flavours and a suggestion of anise. Deliciously drinkable.
Bladen Pinot Gris, Marlborough, $30
Ripe yet refreshing pinot gris with typical tree fruits/pear/(green) apple and a suggestion of nutty yeast lees character. Bright wine with a good balance of acidity and subtle sweetness giving a dry and lingering finish.