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.