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The Pinot Blanc Grape

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About Pinot Blanc

(Synonyms: Beli Burgundac, Burgundac Bijeli, Fehér Burgundi, Klevner, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Bijeli, Rulandské Biele, Rulandské Bilé, Weissburgunder.)


Map showing the Alsace regiion of France

Pinot Blanc is a white-wine grape probably originating in Burgundy, as either a mutation of or a cross with Pinot Noir. Nowadays it is grown in many parts of the wine-making world, notably in the Alsace region of France, as well as Austria, Germany, Italy, and countries near those; the Pacific states of the U.S. also now grow some serious Pinot Blanc. Not a few critics feel that Austrian "Weissburgunder" may be the best expression of Pinot Blanc, though Oregon gets some votes, too.

The issue is complicated by the fact that in Alsace, the chief region for "Pinot Blanc", the term does not necessarily denote a monovarietal wine made from Pinot Blanc grapes; rather, the term there means any white wine made with what are collectively called "the Pinot varieties", a term including Pinot Blanc itself but also Auxerrois Blanc, Pinot Gris, and even Pinot Noir (vinified as a white). The commonest blend of Alsatian "Pinot Blanc" is Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, though true monovarietal Pinot Blanc bottlings can be found. (One source suggests that to identify true monovarietal Alsatian Pinot Blancs one should look for the name "Clevener", or "Klevener", on the bottle.)

The grape is probably best described as "serviceable" rather than outstanding, though in a few cases it can excel. To quote Jancis Robinson, "The main characteristic of wines made from Pinot Blanc (and Auxerrois) is a certain roundness of flavour, verging on apparent sweetness sometimes because the acidity is relatively low. They are gently rather than demandingly appealing, having even fewer distinguishing marks than Chardonnay, and generally rather less body. This means that yields have to be really quite low before a Pinot Blanc can stand up to barrel ageing. These are wines to be drunk young while such acidity as there is is most obvious." Wikipedia's article refers to Pinot Blancs as "full-bodied", and further states that "The most full-bodied 'Pinot blanc' wines from Alsace, with a spicy and smokey character and moderate acidity, are probably dominated by Auxerrois grapes."

Pinot Blanc is sometimes described as a poor man's Chardonnay, which may be unduly harsh, but which conveys something of the grape and its wines. Vineyard and vinification techniques can, however, make some real differences, and an Alsatian monovarietal Pinot Blanc and an Oregon bottling will probably not be that much alike.

Factoid: In the United States, grape vines long thought to be Pinot Blanc, and so marketed, turned out to be Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of French Muscadet wines), which is actually a better grape. Most or all have now been correctly identified and the wines appropriately labelled.

Some Descriptions of Pinot Blanc Wines

Some Pinot Blancs to Try

(About this list.)

We wanted to include specimens from all around, but the better-rated European types turn out to be blends—sometimes with the "Pinot Blanc" of their name actually being a minority grape in the blend (that dervies from the insanity that is European wine laws). So, to keep to bottlings both highly rated and also mainly or wholly actual Pinot Blanc, we ended up with a rather short(but, we think, excellent) list, all from the Pacific Northwest (in fact, all from the Willamette Valley).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Ponzi Pinot Blanc
(Willamette Valley, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

This outstanding effort offers a vanilla wrap around solid fruit flavors of white peach, yellow plum and nectarine. The texture and detail are delightful, as the wine generously fills in the finish with a hint of marzipan. 92 points, Editors' Choice.

When I tasted this 2014 Ponzi Pinot Blanc blind, my impression of it grew more and more favorable. The aroma was reticent at first, but it opened into a complex nose of delicate citrus fruit, ripe stone fruits, honey and blossom. In my mouth, the energy of high acidity was immediately evident, followed by considerable richness of texture and pronounced, ripe, luscious flavors of fruits and earthiness -- peach, nectarine, and lemon with a tangy slate-like note. The wine has weight and presence, suggesting impressive ripeness, and yet its savory mineral notes and acid edginess keep the taste fresh and lively.

The 2014 Ponzi Pinot Blanc begins with a very inviting aroma of citrus, tropical fruit, honey orange blossom and a little vanilla. The wine tastes bright, crisp and fruity with lots of peach and nectarine along with apple, pear and tropical fruit notes. The fruit is so rich and lively that you’d swear this one has a lot more residual sugar. It ends with a bit of slate minerality underlying the rich, sweet fruit on the long finish. TASTE: 9; COST: 4; OVERALL RATING: 7.8: Highly Recommended

A high acid, all-stainless rendering of the grape, this vintage is entirely sourced from the Aurora vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains, though the label simply reads Willamette Valley. It's a subtle wine with a pleasant citrus character, a touch of celery, a streak of mineral, and a lingering finish with a hint of shortbread. 90 points.

This almost clear colored Pinot Blanc from Oregon was very popular with the Tasting Panel. It opens with a faint lime bouquet with floral hints and a touch of anise. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and approachable. The flavor profile is a mild green apple that is nicely blended with lemon, minerality, green tea and ginger ale. The panel thought it was a pretty complex white wine. The finish is dry and its flavors linger nicely. If you have never tried Pinot Blanc, this would be a good one to start with. 92.6 points.

Needs more time in the bottle, but when this Oregon white is ready in a couple of months, it should be classic, elegant Oregon pinot gris — fresh tropical fruit, rich mouth feel, and long finish.

Elk Cove Pinot Blanc
(Willamette Valley, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The winery’s most successful wine that is widely distributed and turns up on “Top Wine” lists year after year…Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely aromas of apple, pear and floral notes. Slightly creamy on the palate, with fresh flavors of apple and honey. A quintessential Oregon Pinot Gris that offers a lip-smacking finish. Very easy to like. 90 points..

Adam Campbell earns our top rating for the second consecutive vintage on behalf of this lesser-appreciated and modest grape from Burgundy…[it] opens with alluring aromas of Asian pear, Golden Delicious apple, white peach, currant blossom and dried apricot. The entry is round with juicy pineapple and papaya before its bursts with flavors that hint at Granny Smith apple, fresh-cut celery and gooseberry. It’s complex, clean and beautifully balanced…one of the Pacific Northwest’s best expressions with this variety. Rating: Outstanding!

This almost clear colored Pinot Blanc from Elk Cove is very good. It opens with a fragrant and appealing chamomile tea and honey bouquet with hints of rose and pear. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, slightly acidic and fresh. The flavor profile is a flinty mineral infused green apple with notes of white pepper and Anjou pear. We also detected a hint of honeydew melon and pineapple. The finish is dry and nicely prolonged. 89.3 points.

Bright and sleek, with pretty pear and floral flavors on a tangy frame. [Wine Spectator Web, 2015]

Vintage after vintage, Adam Campbell consistently crafts one of the best Pinot Gris in the Pacific Northwest, and this is no exception. It opens with aromas of stone fruit, lemon, lychee and spearmint, followed by lively flavors of orchard fruit, including white peach.

Beautifully styled, this wine brings a solid blend of citrus, cucumber, tangerine and melon flavors. The length and balance are there for further aging, but the stunningly good flavors encourage near-term drinking. 92 points, Editors' Choice.

St. Innocent "Freedom Hill Vineyard" Pinot Blanc
(Willamette Valley, U.S.A.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.

Some quotations and facts about this wine:

About one-third was fermented in neutral oak, the rest in stainless steel, yielding a rich and smooth wine loaded with fresh flavors of pear and nectarine fruits. There's a tasty pie crust toastiness also, and the lingering finish has you reaching for the next sip. 91 points.

The 2009 Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill Vineyard offers up a melange of white fruit aromas, spice box, and mineral. Layered, round, and smooth-textured, this dry, pristine offering will pair beautifully with ceviche and shell fish…90 points. [Wine Advocate]

This impressive mineral-driven Pinot Blanc wine begins with aromatics of ripe pears, cantaloupe, with suggestions or orange blossom. The palate shows wonderful texture. There are plush flavors of New York apple, honeydew melon and green papaya. The creamy finish lingers, as does the sparkling minerality.

Tight, this lightly structured wine offers firm tannins wound around a lean core of blackberry, anise and mineral flavors, lingering on the finish. [Wine Spectator Web, 2013]

Light gold in color with a hint of green, this wine has a bright nose of unripe pears, fresh lime, and crushed stones. In the mouth it is just as crisp, with a slight spritz on the tongue and primary flavors of kumquat peel, unripe pears, and minerals. The wine is slightly wooden on the back palate, and I mean that both in terms of texture as well as flavor, it's a little...blocky and less elegant than it could be…Overall Score: 8/8.5

Light straw color in the glass. Delicate aromas of lemon curd and pastry cream. Demure flavors of citrus, peach, green apple and a hint of oak. Oregon does well with this grape and this is a fine example. Good.

For a Splurge

That would perhaps best be the Cantina Terlano-Kellerei Terlan "Vorberg" Pinot Bianco Alto Adige Riserva.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.





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