From NZ$24.90, £12, Aus$28.93
New Zealand whites have a special place in the hearts of British wine drinkers. They earned that place on the strength of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, with the foundations laid by international superstar Cloudy Bay and the dominant NZ wine company no longer known as Montana - see Farewell, founding father). But now the country's winemakers, like many of their customers, have been keen to diversify into other white wine grape varieties. Oddly, in view of how refreshing Kiwi answers to white burgundy can be, Chardonnay has not been the focus of their efforts (see Sauvignons without the Sauvignon flavour?). What many New Zealand producers are busy refining are the aromatic varieties commonly associated with Alsace: Riesling, Gewurztraminer and, especially, fashionable Pinot Gris, known in Italian as Pinot Grigio.
These varieties have long been planted in New Zealand vineyards and, with the naturally fresh acidity that grapes grown there seem to retain, the results should be of real interest. For too long to my mind, however, too many of the resulting wines were heavy, astringent and a little too sweet. But this has been changing and one of the most admired producers of New Zealand Pinot Gris is Neudorf of Nelson in the north west of the South Island. Neudorf, Maggie's Block Pinot Gris 2009 Nelson was one of the wines I liked best when tasting a range of wines from some of New Zealand's top producers recently.
The grapes, all handpicked, which is a distinct plus point in New Zealand, come from a vineyard at Brightwater on the stony, alluvial Waimea plains south of the city of Nelson. Soils here drain so fast that irrigation is essential, and to judge from the photograph below taken from Tim and Judy Finn's excellent www.neudorf.co.nz, they attract a hungry bird population, but they seem particularly good at retaining really fresh, crisp, grape flavours. Brightwater, birthplace of Ernest Rutherford, splitter of atoms, seems a particularly suitable name to be associated with a bright-fruited wine somehow. This is a good example of a fine, vibrant wine in which oak played only a minor part. About a fifth of it was fermented in barrel but most of the fruit was fermented and raised in neutral stainless steel, the most common alternative to oak.
The resulting blend, 13.5% alcohol, is sensationally aromatic in a way reminiscent of some tropical flowers (heady lilies?) - more so than the average Alsace Pinot Gris - and yet has the same sort of meaty, savoury undertow as a fine example from Alsace. It is certainly a much more serious wine than most of those labelled Pinot Grigio. And its naturally high acidity, 5.9 g/l, keeps the wine really refreshing. The residual sugar level of 7.3 g/l is low enough to be barely perceptible. It just means that the wine is rich enough to go well with Thai spiced dishes - or to be drunk comfortably as an aperitif. It should retain its liveliness over the next three years.
In the UK the 2009 is currently available at £16.20 from the specialist online retailer of fine New Zealand wines www.mustwines.co.uk. It is also now sold by Philglas & Swiggot in London and Old Bridge Wine. The 2008 is almost as good, however, and is currently on offer from www.drinks.co.uk at £12. According to Wine-searcher.com, the wine is also available in Japan, Australia, and of course New Zealand.