Mt. Beautiful, North Canterbury (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2014 (Mt. Beautiful USA, $19): When most wine drinkers think of New Zealand, they almost certainly think of Sauvignon Blanc, which twenty-five short years ago became the country’s vinous claim to fame and redefined the stylistic range for that grape variety. Sauvignon Blanc still accounts for 72 percent of New Zealand’s wine production. But wine producers have been growing and making alternative white wines for years. Chardonnay ranks first among these and, perhaps surprisingly, Pinot Gris ranks second.
The stylistic bookends of Pinot Gris -- Italian Pinot Grigio on the light end and Alsace Pinot Gris on the rich end -- attest to the versatility of the grape. In cool New Zealand, Pinot Gris styles fall between these two extremes, veering closer to the richer style in the warmer North Island regions and to the lighter style in the cooler south Island vineyards.
I was intrigued recently by the 2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris from the region of Canterbury because it seems to fall dead-center on the stylistic spectrum, combining elements of freshness and crispness with notes of richness. Canterbury is a cool region near the city of Christchurch on the eastern coast of the South Island, but Mt. Beautiful’s Pinot Gris vineyard sits on north-facing slopes, a warmer site than the lower areas surrounding the vineyard. Perhaps this factor of warm site in a cool region accounts for the wine’s particular character.
Mt. Beautiful is a wine estate of 165 acres situated only seven miles from the ocean but protected from harsh sea winds by Mt. Beautiful, which rises 1400 feet. After discovering the site, owners Dr. David J. Teece and his wife Leigh planted their first vines in 2004 and released their first wine in 2007; now the wines have gained distribution in 35 U.S. states.
The 2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris is a dry, medium-bodied white wine with energetic acidity and a rich, slightly waxy-like texture. Its aromas and flavors suggest ripe pear, apple, and floral notes, and these are pronounced enough to make for a satisfyingly flavorful wine.
The wine also has a bit of a grip, which made for some fun taste-sleuthing on my part. In my tasting I first labeled that sensation as gentle oak tannin, but it also smacks of the tactile tang of minerality, especially on the finish, and for that matter it is also similar to the pleasantly bitter peach-stone character than I often find in Alsace Pinot Gris. In fact, some of the wine was fermented in old oak, which could support my first impression, but on reflection, I find that grip an authentic Pinot Gris character.
The wine’s combination of freshness and richness is probably due to the fact that the grapes were harvested in two batches, one early and the other at a riper stage. Aging on the lees certainly also contributed to the richness of texture.
At $19, this is an affordable wine for many wine drinkers, and it is certainly delicious enough for just drinking without thinking. But for Pinot Gris aficionados or for thoughtful tasters, it delivers intrigue and food for thought along with the sheer pleasure of the drinking.
Besides a range of predictable food choices, the winery recommends pairing this wine with “especially rowdy dinner guests.” I can only attest to its affability with the range of suggested foods, and found it especially delicious with Manchego cheese.