First, a confession. A few years ago I was guilty of suggesting that people who drank pinot gris, or much of the white wine that passed for pinot gris in New Zealand, were driven by fashion, not by taste; that I could think of no good reason to actually drink the stuff.
Master of Wine Bob Campbell , forever the gentleman, was slightly more encouraging in a piece that he wrote about the same time, suggesting there was little not to like about this popular newcomer.
But even Bob failed to convince me that I should even try to like it until the people who rushed to cash in on its popularity started producing wines from this mutant clone of pinot noir with more consistency and direction.
As they finally have.
Which means that shopping for this hugely popular aromatic white is no longer a lucky dip.
Now you can finally buy a bottle of New Zealand pinot gris and be reasonably sure that you will get a wine that tastes as you would expect it generally should, making the usual allowances for variations caused by climate and winemaking style.
Which means that what you will get is lovely floral pinot gris more like that produced in Alsace than the drier pinot grigio (the same wine) often with apple, pear, sometimes honeysuckled characters, and, hopefully, spice.
That produced in warmer North Island is often riper, fatter, oilier than that from the south, where up to 90 per cent of our pinot gris is grown, and where the wines do tend to be tighter and more precisely structured.
Whatever the origin, much of what we grow undergoes some barrel ageing, with wild yeasts and less stirring adding complexity.
The result are wines that can range from refreshingly light to rich and refreshing; wines that can be enjoyed with or without food but are particularly good with white meats and seafood; wines that are not as precociously aromatic as gewurztraminer and riesling, but are especially attractive to women.
And now to grizzly old men like me.
The truth is I am now as intrigued by the progress of this hugely successful white as I am by the history of the grey-blue grape from which it is made and from which it takes the gris (grey in French) part of its name. Pinot, of course, comes from the French word meaning pine cone, which describes perfectly the shape of the bunch in which the grapes grow.
At one stage it was also known as grey monk, a reference to the Cistercian monks in Hungary who were among those patient enough to grow the unreliable grape which was saved eventually by the German breeders who developed more reliable clones.
It is them, and the people who make the wine now, we must thank for wines such as these:
Main Divide 2011 Pinot Gris, about $20
An exciting, succulent must-try take on Alcase-style pinot gris from the team which also produces Pegasus Bay. Rich, generous and oily. Loaded with yellow stonefruits, pears and spice. Medium dry.
Babich 2011 Marlborough Pinot Gris, about $20
A good-value example of this popular variety. A middleweight mouthfiller that combines stonefruit and pears with hints of honey and spice and is lively and fresh. Finishes dry.
Neudorf 2011 Moutere Pinot Gris, about $29
One of the country's finest pinot gris. And one of the most generous. Awash with tropical fruits and pears laced with honey from botrytis-infected fruit that marry with exotic spices for a long and memorable finish. Off-dry.
Greystone 2011 Waipara Pinot Gris, about $30
If the maker's description of what's on the nose (pear, nutmeg, cloves, nougat and white summer flowers) doesn't get the juices running then nothing will. This, quite simply, is a delicious, beautifully-textured wine. Off-dry.
Hawkshead 2011 Central Otago Pinot Gris, about $25
A lively example of pinot gris from former cabinet minister Denis Marshall's vineyard in the Gibbston Valley. Beautiful florals and trademark pears and spice. Off-dry.
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