WineFolio ‘Top 10 Tasting’ – Pinot Gris

The latest in our bi-monthly ‘WineFolio Top 10 Tasting’ judging events took place on a warm and sunny early Autumn afternoon. A fairly large collection of wines had been assembled from across New Zealand – from wineries keen to be benchmarked alongside their contemporaries. Bottles came from across the regions – including some of our most northerly producers, and ones from the deepest South. In fact the top seven of the ten were all from the mainland – positions eight to ten from the North Island. The criteria is simple. The bottle must be “current release”. We’re not looking for any one particular style – it is simply which one – on the day – is judged to be ‘the most delicious’. Regular readers will know that “is it delicious?” is Rule No.1 at WineFolio.

I think we’re seeing an up-turn in quality across Pinot Gris in New Zealand – to some degree. As the creator of our winning wine said to me a couple of years ago “There’s Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris though”. The varietal can be made in a wide range of styles – including being a good starting point for some natural wine producers, making orange or skin-contact versions. Note that those weren’t included at the tasting today, but I’ve really enjoyed examples such as Valli’s ‘Real McCoy’ wine (reviewed here > and at the Wine Bar I manage, ‘Amoise Gris’ is a very popular glass pour. 

I have been known to say that one of the wines I’d have on the table at my ‘ultimate dinner party’ would be an old-school Alsace Pinot Gris with 20-years of age, from a good producer. That, to me, is where really good Pinot Gris is at, and having had conversations with the like of Kevin Judd, Paul Pujol and Wilco Lam (amongst dozens of others), I think there’s a fair swell of opinion in favour of that.

On to the wines…

Winner – our No.1 Greywacke 2023

Our winner comes from two vineyards near Renwick in Marlborough. A pale green-straw colour in the glass. A headily golden perfume, filled with quince, blood orange, gingerbread, sliced pear and jasmine flowers. “Really ripe” and succulent, we said. A complexity that takes in a broad opulence, but is also quite precise and structured. The texture reminds us of a spiced creme brûlée, with vanilla, citrus zest and caramel notes to match. A well-balanced finish with great length.

Kevin Judd of Greywacke had this to say about the 2023 vintage and their wine:
“The 2023 season had a few weather-related challenges, but as is often the case the thick-skinned pinot gris grape hung on to achieve superb ripeness levels. The fruit was eventually hand-picked at very high sugars, allowing us to create that opulent and highly concentrated Greywacke Pinot Gris style”.

No.2  Tohu 2023. 

A wine from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough. When one of the judging notes contains “Yum” as the first word, you know it’s going to feature in the Top 10. Judges at the last NZIWS considered this to be a Gold Medal wine – and we agreed. Undeniably juicy and ripe, but with that note of ‘good, green bitters’ and phenolics that we like (and gets the Boss in trouble at judging) to balance the palate. Generous (with good weight) and plush, but spicy and dry. A long, satisfying finish. “Terrific” was another note.

No.3 Valli Waitaki 2023

A region well-regarded for aromatic wines – with this exemplary producer leading the way. A bouquet of lemon peel, white pepper, nashi pear, lime, crushed green herbs and white spring flowers. Quite crisp and dry in expression, with a pithy, textural quality strung across the palate. The breezy acidity is heading in the saline direction, but driving a pure, straight line throughout. Complex, with “some fuzzy tannins” popping up; and even a deeper, vanilla, honey note towards the finish.

No.4  Neudorf Tiritiri 2023

A darker golden colour in the glass, with fresh aromas of green pear, lemon curd, lychee, apple pie, honey and a lift of orange blossom florals. Very clean and zesty, but also possesses a viscose texture that gives a creamy mouthfeel. Against that satin is a little pepper, spice and savoury notes – adding up to an intriguing expression.

No.5 Rapaura Springs Reserve 2023

Packed with personality, one note added “Character plus! could be divisive?” It has plenty of varietal typicity, with abundant pear, melon, spice (in fact “SPICE”, in capitals), fig and brioche flavours. Add in some pithy phenolics, and an off-dry touch of golden sweetness, and this is quite intense, rich and distinctive. Loved it.

No.6 Love Block 2023

Another entry from the Awatere Valley. A pale rose gold in the glass. Features a herbal/floral bouquet, with ripe notes of melon, peach, greengage, fennel and apple. Dry, with an elegance and polish that pulls back the generosity of the nose. A crisp acidity and some stony minerality also add structure, keeping things linear and measured through the generous fruit. 

No.7 St. Clair Pioneer Block 5 ‘Bull Block’ 2022

A distinctively pale green colour. Initially quite shy with a perfume of pear, honey, ginger, creamy breadcrumb, red apple and then jasmine – that needs a good swirl to be released from the glass. An opulent, sweeter style, with 14.5 g/l of residual sugar lending a rich and intense weight to the palate. There are herbal flavours of tarragon and chamomile, before a pithy bitterness shows on the finish. A lot going on here.

No.8 Trinity Hill 2022

This is a wine that has been impressing for a few years now – look up reviews elsewhere on the site. The style is just off-dry, aromatic and succulent. The perfume is gold and green, the acidity crisp, and the balance just right. A little oak influence peeks around the corner, but we noticed the “lees influence and chalky minerality” more.

No.9 Man O’ War Exiled 2023

Quite a ‘medium’ sweetness and weight – but carries it well – light and jazzy through the palate. Spiced apple cake, lemon curd, pear and mandarin on the nose. Bright, zesty acidity and some “phenolic, peppery bitters offset the sweetness”. Not following fashion, but keeping marching to the beat of its own drum. One to put a smile on your dial. 

No.10 The Landing 2023

A silvery green colour in the glass. Starts as the most subtle, delicate example in the Top 10 – the nose has white nectarine, nashi pear, lemon peel and baking spice. Things get moving in the palate where a taut acidity morphs into a silky texture, and then dives into a creamy incense-laden finish. Quite a journey.

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