First sip leaves you a little taken aback
If I were to ask you if you have ever tried a wine made from a mutation of the pinot noir grape that the French (where it originated) call pinot gris, you might not be familiar with it.
Now if I were to say have you ever enjoyed pinot grigio from Italy, I am sure that I would get a different response. In truth, they are one and the same although different countries make the wine in different styles.
Just so you can see how different cultures and environments can produce quite different styles, let's go to four very diverse areas and start in Alsace where, until 2007, this grape was known as tokay. In that year the Hungarians were successful in banning the use as they claimed that it could be confused with their tokaji; even the Italians used this name on occasion.
We presently have Willm Alsace Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr 2014 Pinot Gris. This hillside vineyard on a slope next to the village of Barr is one of the most famous appellations in this area known for riesling, gewurztraminer and of course pinot gris.
This Alsace offering is the perfect match for a wide variety of foods such as salmon, scallops, duck and even Tex-Mex tacos and other spicy meals. I must warn you that you may be a little taken aback when you first taste this wine; I was. Sure, there are the bright lovely peach and apricot notes, but not paying particular attention to the degree of sweetness indicated on the label I was unprepared. Let me explain. Our taste buds start to detect sugar in a liquid at a level of five grams per litre and I would suggest that this wine has about 30, or well over our threshold of perception. As a reference, most table wines are under five grams, brut champagne averages 15 and a dessert wine like a sauternes can be up to 150 grams per litre. $31.05.
Mt Difficulty, in the Central Otago region of South Island, New Zealand, makes some of the finest pinot noirs that I have ever had. We also carry their pinot gris 2014. This cooler vintage has resulted in aromas of white peach and pear blossom mingled with underlying crisp red apple notes. The wine is full, creamy and well textured and there is spice in the finish, but getting back to more standard sugar levels it hovers on the sweet/dry border at five grams per litre. It won a Blue-Gold Award at the Sydney International Wine Competition this year. $22.40.
One of the main reasons why wines from Oregon tend to cost a little more than their Californian cousins is that the nature of the climate up there tends to produce less tonnes of fruit per acre. We have found that wines from The Union Wine Company are very reasonable and I would like to tell you about their Underwood 2014 Pinot Gris that we sell for $17.30. Quite a few fruits are evident: peach, banana, cantaloupe, apricot, grapefruit and lemon.
You may not have heard of it yet but there is a new trend entering the market, wines in a can — and why not. The liner in the can prevents aluminium contacting the wine, they are environmentally-friendly, equal to a half bottle and perfect around the pool or on the boat. Underwood is one of the leaders and we have just imported their pinot gris, pinot noir and rosé in this format. I would like to say that they are available in our shops, but they are not.
The first shipment only arrived this week and one customer has bought the lot. I try to stay neutral when it comes to shops, supermarkets and restaurants, as they are all hopefully my good friends, so let me just offer a clue to where they ended up: in my car, the speedometer actually gives me the speed in kilometres and ----- per hour. Get it?
Silvio Jermann is situated in Friuli, up in the northeast corner of Italy, an area known for their white wines. He tends to be a little eccentric, with a chardonnay called Dreams, and a pinot noir identified as Red Angel on the Moonlight, but he has a cult following and probably no one in Italy is making better white wines. One reviewer writes of his Jermann Pinot Grigio 2014 Friuli: “We wanted to include grape varieties other than pinot grigio in this month's selection of wines from Friuli, but it would be a disgrace not to include this one — an absolutely top-end wine that elevates the PG experience to a new level.” I have not seen actual critical scores for this 2014 yet, but the 2013 received 91/100 from Decanter and James Suckling rated it 93/100. That's pretty heady territory for a pinot grigio. $25.60.
• This column is a paid for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm