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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
17 Feb 2009

From NZ$18.99, Aus$24.31 and £13.75.

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One of the reasons I've chosen this excellent dry white is because it is difficultysuch a noble exception to the generally pretty disappointing quality of New Zealand Pinot Gris. I was treated to a blind tasting in Marlborough recently of what had been chosen locally as some of the finest examples of each significant varietal produced in New Zealand – other than Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, which had been encountered elsewhere. It got off to a seriously rocky start because the first flight consisted of a series of really rather disappointing Pinot Gris. My heart sank. I started to wonder how I was politely going to thank the organisers for going to all this trouble. I need not have worried since the succeeding Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, Chardonnays and Syrahs were all extremely impressive, but it seems as though Pinot Gris is currently just too fashionable for its own good.

Each one seemed more vapid and flabby than the next. Kiwis themselves have turned their backs on Chardonnay and may be a bit bored by Sauvignon Blanc now so that it is all too easy to sell Pinot Gris in New Zealand. There is therefore not that much impetus to cram lots of flavour into the wine. A little residual sugar can be relied upon to give some semblance of character. And, after all, most of the vines are terribly young.

But this example, from one of the most respected Central Otago wineries in Bannockburn, almost next door to Felton Road, is chock full of flavour. Interestingly, Robin and son Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty think there is huge potential for aromatic white wines in this predominantly Pinot Noir region and, thanks to a slew of new plantings, their own vines are now almost half light-skinned varieties.

The fruit in this Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris 2008 Central Otago is wonderfully bright and sharply etched. There is real life, smokiness and juice here, and much more zest and refreshment than in the average Alsace Pinot Gris in fact. The residual sugar is only 4g/l so it effectively tastes dry – and fun – with lots of white stone fruit character. Here's what they claim on their website:

The grapes for this wine come from five of our Bannockburn vineyards; Templars Hill, Long Gully, Bannockburn Bay, Ferris and Lytefoot [see map below]. The fruit was hand harvested in top condition from the 30 Mar to 12 Apr: it was harvested at 23.6-23.9 Brix, about 3.3pH, with an acidity ranging from 7.0-7.5 g/l. The fruit was processed in a reductive manner, with the juice settled overnight and racked slightly cloudy the following morning. The wine was fermented cool, to help maximise varietal character. All the components were left on gross yeast lees for three months post fermentation with weekly stirring. These techniques were used to help enhance the complexity and textural aspects of the wine. Total acidity 6.7g/l, residual sugar 4 g/l, pH 3.25, 14.5% alcohol.

map

The 2007 vintage, incidentally, which I have not tasted, is much more widely available than the 2008 – in NZ, Australia, the UK, Holland and Ireland – at NZ$25.90, $17.79, £15.15, Aus$30.99 and €16.45. So this is a wine that has actually gone down quite significantly in price with the new vintage. I thought the 2008 seemed as though it would drink well over the next couple of years so I would expect that the 2007 is still in good condition.

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