Pinot Blanc...or is it?

I recently held a wine tasting that included some wines from the French region of Alsace. This AOP is unique in France, in that it is the only region to put the grape variety on the label. This has to do with the heavy German influence in the area. Germany traditionally has labelled wines by the variety. France on the other hand, has always labelled by the growing region. So, when you purchase an Alsace Riesling, you know you are getting a Riesling. And, when you buy a bottle that says Pinot Blanc, you are getting…..well, maybe not what you think.

Pinot Blanc
Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is an unstable grape variety that can easily mutate. When it mutates and produces white grapes, it is known as Pinot Blanc. It can also mutate in a grayish-blue colored grape that is known as either Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio (if you are in Italy).  In Alsace, Pinot Blanc is not considered a "grand cépage" or “great grape”. Its’ main use is in Edelzwicker (a blend of grape varieties) and Crémant (the name for sparkling wine, outside of Champagne).  If a wine is labelled as Pinot Gris, in Alsace, then the bottle will contain 100% Pinot Gris. When a bottle is labelled as Pinot Blanc, the story is different. It is confusing. The designation for Pinot Blanc, in Alsace, does not necessarily mean that the wine is 100% Pinot Blanc. Matter of fact, it could be 100% Auxerrois, and still be labelled as Pinot Blanc.

The difference is that Pinot Gris is a "true" varietal designation in Alsace, or “grand cépage”. The designation for Pinot Blanc means that it is a white wine made from Pinot varieties. Under the Alsace appellation rules, the varieties can include Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and even Pinot Noir (as long as it is vinified white, without skin contact). The most common Pinot Blanc blend is Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois. The reason why Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are treated together is that legally, Pinot Blanc is a term that includes Auxerrois (but not the opposite).  If you want 100% Pinot Blanc, then the label might state “Clevner” or “Klevner”.

Auxerrois is a white grape. DNA testing has shown that it is a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir, the same ancestry as Chardonnay. Auxerrois has more body than Pinot Blanc. It is generally lower in acid (except when grown in the cooler northern region of Bergheim, where it develops a crisp character), and has a nice citrus flavor. But, it is mainly known for its’ spicy, smoky, and almost perfumy character.

Almost always, Pinot Blanc wines are a blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois. The fresh acidity of Pinot Blanc melds with the spicy, full-bodied character of Auxerrois. The final product produces a wonderful balance. While the nose is not as fragrant as some of the more famous wines of the region, these dry white wines make for great sipping wines, as well as the perfect accompaniment for food.  It is perfect on the buffet table, and goes well with everything from smoked salmon, to Thai and Italian dishes.

Alsatian Pinot Blanc is one of those wines that you can drink right away, or even cellar for a few years. It holds up well, but not as long as Riesling or Chardonnay. 

The night of the tasting, I served the 2013 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc. This blend was 65% Auxerrois and 35% Pinot Blanc, and was picked as one of the nights’ favorite wines.

If you are looking for something that is different from the everyday Chardonnay, or the lighter Pinot Grigio, give Pinot Blanc from Alsace a chance, Surprise your friends with your knowledge about why the bottle says one thing, but what is inside is another. Have fun, and enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment