Looking at my recent posts, I’ve been in something of a rut geographically. Europe, Australia, Europe, Australia. Some of the recent wines have just been been so interesting that I couldn’t pass them up. Others were wines I knew I’d like, and I much prefer to write about a wine I like than one I don’t. And some have just been a bit of laziness on my part, picking up whatever is close at hand. As a result, much of the New World has been neglected. New Zealand in particular has been crying out for attention, wondering why I don’t call or email anymore. So to try to make things right, tonight’s wine is the Wild Earth Vineyards Otago Pinot Gris 2011.
It turns out I’ve only written about New Zealand once before, on Christmas Eve, with the Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, also from Otago, and I certainly enjoyed it. However, it really brings to light now poorly served New Zealand has been by this blog, in that I haven’t even covered the basics. If I were on a mission to teach someone about Kiwi wine, I would start with the two cornerstones of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago Pinot Noir. Then, it would be off to Hawkes Bay with their fantastic Bordeaux red blends, as well as their Syrahs, and then a discussion of New Zealand’s place in the wine world, how it’s been having a great fashion moment with Sauvignon Blanc, and how it can hope to move forward instead of being cast aside when the next big thing arrives.
Fortunately, I’m not really on that kind of mission – I’m just here to tell you what I’m drinking, and a bit about the region, grapes and producer.
Speaking of regions, this hails from Central Otago, a wine region on the southern of the main islands that make up New Zealand. It’s the most southerly wine region in the world. Being so far south, and at an average elevation of 300 meters, it’s fairly cool. Unusually for New Zealand, it a continental climate, as the vineyards are protected from a strong maritime influence by the surrounding mountains. So while the area is on the cool end of the spectrum, the seasonal and diurnal temperature variation is fairly pronounced. The soil has a base of metamorphic rock with a high mineral content and drains easily.
Central Otago is best know for Pinot Noir, which makes up some 70% of the plantings. Pinot Gris is a distant second, wich Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer also finding a foothold. There is some sparkling production, largely making use of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
This is far from the first Pinot Gris/Grigio I’ve covered, though the first from the New World, and to be honest I didn’t write much about the grape itself when I wrote about the Pinot Grigios from Trentino and Friuli Grave. Pinot Gris/Grigio is a European grape most commonly associated with white wines of Alsace and the north of Italy. The grapes themselves are generally pinkish, but can range from blue to brown hues, even within a single bunch. It’s a mutation of Pinot Noir, and until the berries ripen, it is easy to mistake the vines for one another in the vineyard. It produces well in cool climates, maturing early with good sugar levels.
Internationally, Pinot Gris/Grigio is very well traveled. While the Alsatian and Italian versions are the best know, there is a surprising large amount planted in Germany, and it can be found throughout eastern Europe. Beyond Europe, it is planted in the vast majority of New World wine producing countries, including the USA, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa, and of course New Zealand.
New Zealand as a country has done very well of late with their wines, managing to carve out a high quality/price niche both for their Sauvignon Blancs out of Marlborough and their Pinot Noirs from Central Otago. However, as wine is a fashion driven industry, particularly with regards to the New World, producers in New Zealand have been looking for the next big thing, or at least have been hedging their bets for when the wine markets want something different. To that end, plantings of Pinot Grigio within New Zealand have been on the rise, doubling between 2006 and 2009, and becoming the third most planted white variety in 2007.
Wild Earth is a relatively small producer, founded in the late 1990s, producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling varietal wines, and a Pinot Noir rosé. They have 50 acres under vine across two regions of Central Otago – Lowburn where they grow University of California, Davis clones of Pinot Noir, and Bannockburn which is Dijon clones of Pinot Noir as well as small parcels of Pinot Gris and Riesling.
In the glass, this wine was a very pale gold. On the nose it was of medium intensity, developing, and had notes of Nishi pear nose, blossom, and butterscotch. On the palate I got more pear and apple with medium minus acidity, and a medium body. It has a pleasant flavour, if not overly complex. It had a slightly sour finish, though the length was short enough that it didn’t trouble me. This was a fine “by the glass” wine, and a good value at that, but I think there’s room for improvement.
Pin in the map is the Bannock Burn Vineyard’s address.