WHAT: I think pinot gris is a largely underappreciated wine. It is a major grape in the Alsace region of France, but in many other countries it is almost an afterthought, despite the outstanding wines it produces.
Even in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, where this wine is from, it didn’t really catch on until about a dozen years ago. In 2007, pinot gris passed riesling as the third most-planted white variety in Marlborough, after sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
The same grape is known as pinot grigio in Italy, where its light, acidic style is very popular. The Giesen pinot gris is made in the Alsatian style, which is more full-bodied and spicy.
The wine is a beautiful pale yellow in the glass, with aromas of ginger, pear and cinnamon. On the palate you get fresh tastes of lemon, pear and melon. There is a rich, oily, velvety mouthfeel that ends with a touch of flint or mineral. It is a dry wine that keeps getting better with each sip.
Although this wine makes for pleasant sipping on its own, it really hits its stride when paired with food. The flavors explode in your mouth and enhance the food flavors.
The grapes come from eight Giesen vineyards located throughout Marlborough’s Wairau Valley. The diverse soil types and microclimates add different fruit characteristics and add to the complexity of the wine.
I would refrigerate this wine, but leave it at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving. This will be a great wine on those hot summer afternoons, but it can be enjoyed year-round.
WINERY: Giesen Wines began in 1981 when three young German brothers settled in Marlborough after traveling the world. They didn’t know it, but they were looking for a place to grow grapes. They recognized Marlborough as one of the best sites in the world.
They might have settled in Australia, except extreme heat and snakes convinced them New Zealand was the place for them. Theo and Alex arrived first, and thought about opening a stone company, similar to the family business in Germany. Instead, they bought land outside Christchurch and planted vines. It was almost a spontaneous decision, and a wise one. It turned out their experience in Germany helped them to understand how to grow grapes in cool-climate Marlborough.
At that time the vineyard they planted was the southernmost vineyard in the world. Their goal was to make wines they wanted to drink, but some people thought they were crazy to pick the spot they did. Now Marlborough is one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world, with virtually all of the available land planted with grapes.
Though the family had “hobby” vines back in Germany, none of the brothers knew anything about making wine. So Marcel decided to get a degree in winemaking, and joined Theo and Alex.
Their first harvest included a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, long before that grape came to dominate the region. It is still a spectacular wine, and selling for about $14 a bottle, it is a steal.
The Giesens started out small and now own 700 acres of vines, exporting to 30 countries. Despite their success with sauvignon blanc, the brothers have planted other grapes as well and say they will continue to look at expanding their repertoire.
They produce many wines in several price tiers. The pinot blanc is part of their Estate series, which includes sauvignon blanc and riesling. The Brothers wines include sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and a dessert-style late-harvest sauvignon blanc.
They also make a sauvignon blanc called The August, in honor of their grandfather. Another line is The Fudur, which includes single-vineyard sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. There are several single-vineyard pinot noirs and a single-vineyard syrah.
GOES WITH: One of the real tests of a wine for me is how it pairs with ordinary food. When my wife, Teri, and I tried this wine we had it with what could hardly be called elegant cuisine: potato pancakes and canned spaghetti. The pedestrian fare could not hold down this wine; it was wonderful.
Actually, I ate potato pancakes and Teri had leftover ribs, though she did nibble on a pancake. She reported the pinot gris went really well with the ribs.
I think the full body and complex mouthfeel made it a good pair with the ribs. The heavy potato pancakes were helped by the citrus and mineral flavors.
I made the pancakes because we were getting ready to leave on a trip and I had to use the potatoes in our pantry. This seemed like the perfect solution. My parents lived through the Depression and told enough stories about it that I learned to hate wasting anything.
Before you snicker at our meal I would tell you this is one of my childhood favorites that my mother would cook on meatless Fridays. Remember those? So the meal brings back pleasant memories, but I also like the hearty tastes of potatoes and the pasta with its tomato sauce.
The pancakes are relatively easy to make. I grate 5-6 white potatoes and squeeze out most of the juice. Grate half an onion and squeeze out most of the juice. Mix together with just enough flour to hold the mixture together. Then drop a mixing spoon full in hot oil in a frying pan. Cook on both sides until brown.
The trick is in getting the right amount of flour. Too little and the pancakes fall apart. Too much and you lose the potato flavor.
The winery recommends the pinot gris with a rocket (Arugula) salad with smoked chicken, pear, parmesan and walnut oil vinaigrette salad. I think it would be great with steamed shrimp, and just about any other mild fish.