Finding only two domestic pinot blanc brands, one from Oregon and the other from Long Island, sitting ignored on the very bottom shelf of the “other whites” section at Sam’s Wines & Spirits’ Marcey Street store underscored visually just how below-the-radar this grape variety remains.
Oz Clarke, the British wine writer, once famously compared pinot blanc to Cinderella because the grape variety always seems overshadowed by other grapes. Certainly that is the case here in the U.S., where pinot blanc is snubbed. Too bad, because pinot blanc can have a lively acidity, a refreshing crispness and appealing body.
“It is a wine that is round, full and elegant without having an odd tartness on the finish,” said Charlene Pontrelli of WineStyles in Woodridge. The wine should not be citrusy but more like an apple, she added, with “a hint of creaminess and a touch of nuttiness on the finish.”
While there are those, like Tom Benezra of Sal’s Beverage World stores, who think “pinot blanc and ‘great’ is somewhat oxymoronic,” others like Alixe Lischett of Cabernet & Co. in Glen Ellyn savor its appeal.
“I think pinot blanc can be wonderful with food, especially fowl like the Thanksgiving turkey or your everyday chicken,” she said. “It’s not usually as dry as chardonnay so I feel it makes a better pairing with the bird. Its nose is slightly fruity, more ripe apple than anything, and a good one has some hints of spice and honey on the palate.”
Perhaps pinot blanc is suffering from an identity problem: You’ve got to know it to love it. And, like other white grape varieties identified with France’s Alsace region, pinot blanc has had difficulty in the American market despite the plus of being labeled by grape type. Though a white mutation of pinot gris, which is a lighter-colored version of pinot noir, pinot blanc was long linked to chardonnay because it had a similar if less fragrant style, according to “The Oxford Companion to Wine.”
The confusion extended into the vineyards. In Australia, “The New Wine Lover’s Companion” reports, much of what was called pinot blanc was found to be chardonnay while some of California’s oldest pinot blanc vines were actually another variety called melon de bourgogne.
Pinot blanc also goes by other names in other countries. It’s “pinot bianco” in Italy (not to be confused with pinot blanco, which is chenin blanc). It’s “wiessburgunder” in Austria and Germany, “beli pinot” in Croatia and “clevner” or “klevner” in some corners of Alsace.
In Alsace, where pinot blanc has attained the most renown, the grape is often blended with other varieties, notably auxerrois, but is sold as “pinot blanc.” Indeed, there’s no limit on how much auxerrois can be added, it can even be in the majority, and still be billed as pinot blanc, said Louise Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Alsace Wine Council, an industry group.
In the United States, Oregon and parts of California are the most notable growers of pinot blanc. You will likely have to look hard for it in Chicago-area stores. Offering a reason why is Bill Newton, special projects manager for Binny’s Beverage Depot stores.
“We only have a couple domestic pinot blancs, Elk Cove from Oregon and Valley of the Moon from California,” he said. “Part of the problem is that there is not a great deal of demand for pinot blanc so not much is planted. The best domestic pinot blancs I have tasted have been when I visited Oregon. St. Innocent, Witness Tree, Bethel Heights all have pinot blanc, but often they are only available through the winery due to small production.”
Sounds like what he’s saying is for us to get more pinot blanc we all need to drink more pinot blanc. That shouldn’t be too hard. Pinot blanc goes with many foods. Wine writer Natalie MacLean posts numerous pairing possibilities on her Web site, nataliemaclean.com: corned beef, brie, chicken Caesar salad, Asian-style noodles, sashimi, leek and onion dishes, even gefilte fish.
Give pinot blanc a spin in your wine glass. Let me know what you think.
The tasting: Back to the source—Alsace
Although all hail from the French province of Alsace, these seven pinot blancs each had its own personality. Some were golden and full-bodied like a chardonnay while others seemed paler, more reserved. The Good Eating tasting panel clearly preferred the bolder pinot blancs.
2005 Albert Boxler Reserve
Crisp green apple notes and touches of grapefruit balance an almost grapey sweetness in this pinot blanc. Fresh and juicy. Serve with pan-fried trout, kung pao chicken, tacos al Pastor.
2005 Albert Mann
Colored gold like chardonnay and richly scented with notes of apple, pear and stone, this wine had a slightly oily texture that enriched the pineapple, apple and peach flavors. Serve with seared scallops, chicken tikka masala.
2004 Marcel Deiss Bergheim
There was a certain brown tinge to this pinot blanc. Expect notes of apple, honey and stone on the nose. The flavor is of apricots and peaches; acidity keeps the sweetness in check. Nice, long finish. Serve with an Alsatian onion tart, grilled sausages.
2005 Domaine Bruno Sorg
A light gold, this wine had a lively citrusy nose and tasted like pear, apple and mango, with a hint of butterscotch on the finish. Serve with crab rangoon, cashew chicken.
Nearly colorless, but with flavor notes of apple, grape and black pepper. Supporters liked it well enough but doubters found it a tad watery. Serve with sauteed mushrooms, turkey burgers.
2006 Lucien Albrecht Cuvee Balthazar
A very aromatic wine, this creamy pinot blanc was ripe the flavors of peaches and plums. Serve with Thai green curry, cheese quiche, roasted chicken.
2005 Jean Ginglinger Cuvee George
Watery and dull, a number of tasters wrote. Others found it more palatable, with a minerally nose and tart fruit flavor. Serve with grilled shrimp, choucroute.
Sources: These wines may or may not be in stock at your local store; inquire first. At least one of these wines was found at these stores: Binny’s Beverage Depot, Sam’s Wines & Spirits. Prices may vary from store to store. Prices are rounded off.