Grown in both Marlborough on the north end of New Zealand’s South Island and in both Hawkes Bay and Gisborne on the North Island, Pinot Gris has had a very long and remarkable history.
This is a very versatile light bodied, fruity wine, growing best on clay soils with flavours of apples, pears, honeysuckle and apricots. Pinot Gris produced on the North Island tends to be very rich and full bodied, whereas those from the South Island tend to be cheekier and lighter.
Pinot Gris vines were first planted during the 1990’s and have risen rapidly to be the third most popular variety in New Zealand. It is the perfect wine paired with roast pork and a fruity pear sauce, as well as seafood, pasta and chicken.
A potted history of Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris is thought to be related to Pinot Noir and has a long history dating back to the 1300s in Burgundy, France. In fact, recent DNA analyses have shown that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc have very similar DNA profiles and are in essence just different varieties or mutations of the same vine.
Pinot Noir is a black grape that originated from Burgundy, Pinot Blanc is a white grape that is quite often confused with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, produces rose and white wines. The reason that everyone has been so confused about the Pinot varieties is because it is more than 1000 years old and has had plenty of time to develop into different varieties.
In fact, Pinot Gris is so old that we very nearly lost it when Phylloxera, a pest that attacks vines, wiped out this vine in Burgundy during the 1800’s. Grafted hybrids with American stock were planted, but were unsuccessful in Burgundy and it looked like Pinot Gris was lost until it started to flourish in Italy and Germany and once again rose to popularity in Europe.
It was around this same time that the grafted hybrids were brought to New Zealand, but their production was only minimal, more of a boutique wine. Over the years, Pinot Noir became more popular, but the market for this was also slow to pick up in New Zealand, with the main focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Then all of a sudden during the early 1990’s the market for Pinot Gris started to grow and with its lively floral, tropical fruit flavours has rapidly gained a following of dedicated wine lovers. In fact, it only took three years for Pinot Gris to overtake Riesling as the third most planted white wine grape in New Zealand.
So if you want to taste a crisp, light bodied wine with a host of acidy fruity flavours, depending on the region where the grapes were grown, then you can do no better than open a bottle of classic Pinot Gris this weekend and find out why this versatile wine is so popular in New Zealand restaurants and in their wine culture.