Thirsty work

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Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris discovers the delights of New World pinot gris, also known as pinot grigio, and reveals how the same grape can taste completely different.

New Zealand's other white.

A lunchtime staple on wine lists, we've all appreciated the refreshing qualities of a crisp pinot grigio... but how many wine lovers are familiar with pinot gris?

The good news is they're the same grape and translated both mean "grey pinot". The vines can be planted anywhere that has plenty of sunshine and long, cool autumns.

Alsace, France, produces pungent and full-bodied pinot gris, while northern Italy's neutral white wine morphs into something quite spectacular when it's in the hands of a winemaker from the Antipodes.

Indeed, our insatiable thirst for New Zealand's most famous export, Marlborough sauvignon blanc, means the region's other top-rated grape, pinot gris, is sometimes overlooked.

Pear-scented with peach flavours, smoke or spice, and fresh acidity, Kiwi pinot gris is a far cry from wishy, washy pinot grigio, and a libation for adventurous drinkers.

From the winemaker who started Wither Hills, New Zealand's most popular sauvignon blanc, Brent Marris's new venture produces shining examples, such as The Ned Pinot Grigio 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£9.99, Sainsbury's) from his Ned vineyards in the Waihopai River region. Beautifully balanced and soft with generous pear drops and stone fruit flavours, classic floral aromas and a hint of spice, it's a great choice with poached salmon or roast chicken.

Marris's legacy of well-made, affordable wines continues with Wither Hills Pinot Gris 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£9.99, Waitrose). Off-dry and blossomy with luscious apricot and honeysuckle, it's juicy enough to complement chicken stir-fry and Asian cuisine.

The majority of New Zealand winemakers use green and sustainable farming techniques, and entrepreneur Peter Yealands is a leading figure with his carbon neutral winery and carbonNZero certification.

For a taste of the green movement, try Yealands Estate Pinot Gris 2010, Marlborough, NZ (£10.99, www.winediscoveries.co.uk). Zingy and limey, it has flavours of grapefruit and quince mingle with melon, a hint of ginger and orange with good weight on the clean finish. It's a winner with mushroom risotto and creamy pasta dishes.

A competitive comparison can be found in Yealands' collaboration with Tesco's premium wine brand, Finest, under the label Finest Awatere Valley Pinot Grigio 2011, Yealands Estate, Marlborough, NZ (£9.99, Tesco). An exotic rose-scented nose lifts it from everyday drinker to a fresh, crisp elegant wine and the floral profile manages not to mask the ripe, pure fruit.

Delicate off-dry styles such as Stone Wall Pinot Gris 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£10.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) pair deliciously with lightly spiced Asian foods and the white peach flavours, spice and crispness on the palate with lovely minerality make this a very appealing pinot gris.

Sweeter, with an interesting mineral character, Belmonte Pinot Gris 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£11.99, www.virginwines.com) has an oily charm that adds richness to the apricot, apple and peach flavours with surprisingly crisp acidity.

A tenth of the size of Marlborough, Otago, South Island, is a hot bed for up-and-coming producers, such as Ostler, whose pinot gris is a shining example of how a lesser varietal can lure us away from our usual house style.

Worth forking out for, try the sublime Ostler Blue House Pinot Gris 2010, Waitaki River, Otago, NZ (£18.50, www.bbr.com). Fragrant and rich, delightful summer fruit flavours of pineapple and pear are enhanced by clementine, apricot and lychee with the faintest hint of smoke, and plenty of freshness on the deliciously long finish.

Best buy A taste of the West... Spice up your soft drinks cabinet with the latest edition to Luscombe's portfolio of alcohol-free drinks from Devon. Luscombe's Hot Ginger Beer (£1.55, 32cl, www.riverford.co.uk) is a satisfyingly spicy alternative to alcohol and brewed with fresh root ginger for an extra kick, while Luscombe's Sicilian Lemonade (£2.85, 74cl, www.riverford.co.uk) is a refreshing alternative to a gin and tonic with tangy lemon flavours and vanilla notes on the finish.

Liquid news English winemakers have plenty to celebrate after their success at the 2012 International Wine Challenge (IWC). With an increase of 36% on last year, and a record 49 medals, England proved it's on sparkling form ahead of the London 2012 Olympics with enough fizz fine to rival champagne. Highlights include gold medal winners Ridgeview Marksman (£22, Marks & Spencer) and Camel Valley Brut 2012 (£24.95, Waitrose). For more information on all the winning wines at the 29th IWC, visit www.internationalwinechallenge.com

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