New Zealand is so identified with Sauvignon Blanc that few people realize this country also makes delicious whites from other varietals. This spicy 2011 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris from Central Otago is full of racy acidity and ginger, pear and quince aroma and flavor notes, and has a rich texture and surprisingly long finish. Think of it as a perfect accompaniment to smoked trout or a creamy salmon pâté.
This white was one of many excellent wines I tasted on a one-day trip from New York to Montreal with eight New Zealand winemakers and winery owners in a restored private rail car. The organizers solved the problem of how to taste on a swaying train by serving wines in stemless Riedel “O” glasses placed in wooden boxes divided into individual sections.
As the train sped along the Hudson River and later skirted the shore of vast, blue Lake Champlain, dotted with sailboats, we clustered for four seminars on various grapes and the diverse terroirs in New Zealand.
A gorgeous setting for Pinot Gris grapes
Mt. Difficulty winery, named for the mountain of the same name, is in Bannockburn, a subregion of Central Otago, on the country’s sparsely populated South Island. This region, the southernmost wine-growing region in the world, is one of the most spectacular and dramatic wine places I’ve ever visited. What makes Central Otago great for wine is its extreme diurnal temperature swings, with hot, dry days and the very cool nights that preserve acidity and aromas.
Though more than 85% of the vines grown in Central Otago are Pinot Noir — and I tasted some pretty good ones on the trip — Pinot Gris clearly does well too. But there’s only a tiny amount of it. This is Mt. Difficulty’s best. A blend of grapes from five vineyard sites with different soil types, it was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Aging on the yeast lees for several months accounts for the wine’s creamy texture and complexity. A small amount of residual sugar makes it round and easy to drink, but not sweet, and a good choice with tangy, spicy food.
I applaud the winery’s Green Manifesto and commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. But I also hope they aim for organic certification for their vineyards. Surely that would only make their good wines even better.
Top photo composite:
Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris label and Long Gully vineyard, where some of the Pinot Gris grapes in this bottling come from. Credit: Courtesy of Mt. Difficulty