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New World: Pinot Gris

The attraction of sommeliers to Gris styles rather than Grigio was good news for New Zealand, which dominated the medals once again 

In the early days of the Sommelier Wine Awards, this section used to attract medals from all over the New World. But increasingly it’s becoming the preserve of the Kiwis. The country may have under-delivered with Riesling this year, but it really seems to be on a roll with Pinot Gris.

It’s not surprising that entries here were up. This is, after all, a hot-button grape variety. But, while entries came in from all over the New World, it’s very obvious that New Zealand’s producers have got the hang of it better (or possibly just have a better climate for it) than their competitors.

‘The style changed from Pinot Grigio to Pinot Gris, which was a bit confusing,’ said Xavier Rousset MS of Texture and 28º-50º. ‘Some had acidity but no sugar; others had sugar but no acidity.’

Although some ambitious wines were submitted, the majority of entries – and all of the medal winners – were in the £7-9 range. If that was the category’s sweet spot, then sweetness (specifically, the issue of residual sugar) was at the heart of many of the tasters’ discussions.

‘There was a bit too much sugar sometimes, which made the wines a bit one-dimensional,’ said The French Table’s Sarah Guignard.

Maybe a bit of age helps. The Yealands Estate 2010 picked up a Bronze last year, but seems to have found an extra layer of complexity with a further 12 months of bottle age. It conformed nicely to Rousset’s definition of Pinot Gris as having ‘spice, oiliness, richness, flavours of quince and apricot, and a touch of sweetness’. At only a touch over £8, as well as a Gold, it also picked up a By the Glass award and would be a high-quality addition to any wine list, from gastropub to Michelin-starred white tablecloth.

‘You’re probably only going to have one of these on the list, so we were careful about choosing it,’ said consultant Caspar Auchterlonie. ‘This was rich, but well put together – it’d work nicely with lobster.’ Both literally and metaphorically it added a bit of weight to the SWA Pinot Gris offering.

All in all, then, a good year for New World Gris; a feeling of a category that is undergoing a few teething pains, but seems to be starting to blossom.

‘You can challenge customer perceptions about Pinot Gris by offering them wine By the Glass and there are some wines here that would work for that.’ Sarah Guignard, The French Table

‘There were some mistakes in the winemaking but there were also a lot of winemaking signatures there, in a positive way.’ Angus Macnab, consultant