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Wine of the Week for week ending 26th January 2003
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Peregrine Pinot Gris 2002
Central Otago, New Zealand

For many New Zealand wine producers the promise that Pinot Gris offered when they starting planting the wines with enthusiasm in the mid-1990's just hasn't delivered. Apart from the rare highlight, too many of the wines are simply bland and boring and fail to excite the palate or the passion of the consumer. There are several reasons why this is but perhaps the two main reasons are -

a. the wines are bland and boring (yes I know I said that already) and
b. the consumers are bland and boring.

Let's look at b, 'the consumers are bland and boring' before tackling a.

Let's face it. Most of the wine sold in New Zealand goes through a supermarket checkout and as supermarket becomes the conquering retail outlet, many former fine wine stores are now just a memory, though thankfully some still exist.

The majority of supermarket wine shoppers are driven by price. They are happy with the cheap and cheerful chardonnay they can pick up on the promotion stand at the end of the aisle. They don't really care what it tastes like so long as the price is right. But even some of the more wine savvie customers are unlikely to pick up a wine labelled as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio unless it is on super special, preferring perhaps a sprite little savvie, a cheap little chardonnay or a predictable Aussie shiraz. After all, what is Pinot Gris, anyway?

But not all consumers are bland and boring. You are reading this so you must be an adventurous wine lover, you know what Pinot Gris is, you do shop at fine wine stores and you are probably prepared to give anything a go.

So let's tackle a, 'the wines are bland and boring'.

This is indeed true of so many of the wines. When Pinot Gris is served at the consumer tastings I go to, they so often fail to excite. They are good, well-made wines but many lack the 'x' factor. The question will be asked 'Who likes this wine?' and perhaps only half a dozen people will raise their hand.

The same goes for wine show judges. The judges think the wines are bland and boring too, judging by the lack of gold and silver medals they award to this variety.

Another problem is when one finds a Pinot Gris wine they do like, how do they know if the next one they try (a different brand of course) will be the same? There just doesn't seem to be a definitive style of Pinot Gris as there is in, say, Italy or Alsace.

New Zealand Pinot Gris wines have such a range of styles. One may be like a steely, nutty Italian Pinot Grigio while another might be like a high acid lemony Riesling. There may be pungent Sauvignon Blanc imitators, rich oak aged Pinot Gris that tastes like Chardonnay and sweet lush aromatic Pinot Gris in the mould of a Tokay d'Alsace. It is no wonder consumers are confused. We've no idea what to expect when a new label appears on the scene.

Now, having got that off my chest, I have to say that I think Pinot Gris is getting better. Many producers have 4 or 5 vintages behind them now. That's given them time themselves to sort out the style of wine they want to produce. Bone dry is definitely out.

And so a recent sextet of Pinot Gris had me thinking 'Wow', we're really getting somewhere here. All of the wines were out to impress. And of the six I rated three as gold medal standard and three as silver medal standard. That's not bad from six wines in a blind tasting line-up.

But without doubt, my favourite wine, my trophy wine, was the Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Gris 2002 made from 100% pinot Gris grapes harvested from the Rafters Road and Brennans vineyards in the Gibbston Valley area and the Northburn Vineyard in the Cromwell Basin. The wine was simply made, with a little lees contact after fermentation only, before bottling. Good grapes speak for themselves.

Warmly textured and rich, this is a fragrant lifted wine with pear and apple aromas and a lovely richness of ripe Pinot Gris grapes. Creamy and clean it leaves the mouth nicely refreshed with a zing of citrus and ripe apple and pear flavours lingering. And as well there is a whiff of peach in the empty glass. Beautifully balanced, with just 2.3 grams of residual sugar supporting the ultra ripe fruit, the richness and warm texture is no doubt partly attributed to the 14% alcohol by volume.

I screwed the screwcap firmly back on and tasted the wine over the next couple of days, together with the others in the line-up. The Peregrine reasserted its superiority to me every time and I found rich spicy almost pungent flavours, with some resemblance to those found in Gewurztraminer, developing.

It's just such a beautifully textured, richly flavoured, creamy, full bodied wine with concentrated fruit flavours, a good flare of acidity and a well-balanced finish with a fairly unctuous glycerol texture. "Pear nectar in a glass".

Wines with Altitude is what you read when you enter the Peregrine Wines website. But this is Wine with attitude.

On the website the cost is $24 a bottle. I recommend you choose the wine in screwcap. Or if you want to, you could buy it in magnum for a mere $75. I'll take two in screwcap, please.

And what was this little beauty up against? Check it out on the Pinot Gris tasting notes page.

© Sue Courtney
19 January 2003

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