Sauvignon gris is an obscure variety of white grape – so obscure that it warrants only five lines in the definitive Oxford Companion to Wine (and even then it’s not an entry in its own right, but a footnote to the comprehensive one on sauvignon blanc). In my 2008 copy of the New Zealand Winegrowers Statistical Annual (note to self: must get an updated version), sauvignon gris isn’t even mentioned among the white grape varieties grown in this country, presumably being covered by the catch-all designation “other whites”, which together accounted in 2008 for only three percent of the total white varieties planted.
Nonetheless the sauvignon gris grape has not gone entirely unnoticed. Te Mata Estate, at Havelock North, grows some for blending (along with a small amount of semillon) into its Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc. And it now transpires that Pernod Ricard, owner of Montana, has quietly been trialling sauvignon gris in its Marlborough vineyards.
The results have just been released under the Montana Reserve label, and I reckon they’re onto a winner. The name of the grape variety suggests an amalgam of sauvignon blanc and pinot gris and that pretty much sums up the wine, though it’s more of the latter than the former. It has the weight and mouth-feel of a good pinot gris – rich, rounded and mouthfilling, with a satisfyingly fleshy texture. The pear and nectarine flavours, too, are more reminiscent of pinot gris than sauvignon blanc. At the same time the wine has something of the fresh brightness of a sauvignon blanc, but without the pungent herbaceousness that puts some drinkers off that variety.
According to Pernod Ricard, sauvignon gris is not a crossing of the sauvignon blanc and pinot gris grapes but a variety in its own right, originating in Bordeaux. My Oxford Companion says it’s also known as sauvignon rosé, presumably on account of its faint pink tinge, and adds that it can produce a more substantial wine than sauvignon blanc. That’s certainly true, judging by the example from Montana.
I hope Pernod Ricard has plenty of the variety planted, because I can see this wine taking off. The recommended retail price is $23.99 but I see from today’s paper that New World is selling it for $12.99, at which price it’s a steal.
● My book The New Zealand Wine Lover’s Companion (published by Craig Potton Publishing, RRP $29.99) is available from a good bookstore near you.