Pinot Blanc for a Moody Day

May 15, 2011

I don't mind the rain. I prefer the overcast sometimes. The black, slick streets, the green leaves and white sky reflecting off the roads, that damp verdant smell of wet soil and shower-kissed lawns. There is a pensive aura in the atmosphere which can often be balanced not by a boisterous, black-pepper Shiraz or red currant cab but something lovely, lively, and interesting. 

Something different...

In the world of Pinot Noir, there have been many mutations. Pinot Gris is an ancient mutation of Noir and in the 19th century the lighter-berried Gris gave birth to a whiter version. 

Pinot Blanc, hence, was born.

And I should emphasize, mutations are not bad things. Not really. It is simply a spontaneous and unforeseen change to the vine's genetic material, occurring during cell division. And when we look at the world of vitis vinifera (the European vine family making up more than 90% of the world's quality wine), there have been numerous mutations. How else to explain the wide range of varieties available today?

Not only Pinot Noir but also popular Spanish Grenache and French Carignan have been prone to mutations. 

Like Pinot Gris, Blanc find its familial home in Alsace. Though it may be a member of the Noble Pinot Noir clan, Blanc is sadly used and abused as the workhorse grape in northeastern France (often called Clevner) and less popular than Riesling or Silvaner. ('Pinot Blanc' in Alsace is not so much a varietal as a blend of Blanc and Auxerrois)

Thankfully the German-speaking nations give it more respect. 

As Weissburgunder, it is Germany's sixth most planted white variety, grown in Baden, the Pfalz, and along the banks of the Nahe as well as the Mosel and its tributaries. From the full and  generously rich to the delicate, the variety can take on many different guises. 

Across the border, in eastern Austria, Weissburgunder makes up about 6% of the country's total vineyards and can be made into a varietal with a floral-almond scent or botrytized Trockenbeerenauslese (i.e. late-late-late harvested grapes of super-sweet character), either stand alone or blended with Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. 

In Northern Italy, the grape is well-received as Pinot Bianco in Alto Adige. Though less popular than Pinot Grigio, the variety shows potential when harvested from low-yielding vineyards and oak-aged.

Chardonnay is king (or queen) of the hill in the world of white grapes (ironically enough, Pinot Blanc was often mistaken for Chardonnay in French vineyards) and many New World winemakers put their  big money behind him (or her). 

But you'll find respectable if not incredible Pinot Blanc in the Pacific Northwest. It is grown in California, Oregon and British Columbia. Chalone Vineyards in the Salinas Valley produces oak-aged Pinot Blanc, left on the lees (taking cues from the Northern Italians) while Willakenzie Estate of the Willamette Valley opts for the older-neutral-barrel-stainless-steel approach, making a Pinot Blanc closer to Viognier with its honeydew-apricot character. 

The same could be said of Peller Estates Okanagan Pinot Blanc. 

In my Dionysian travels, I rarely see Pinot Blanc here in the Niagara region. But two wineries do spring to mind: Konzelmann in the Lakeshore Sub-Appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Henry of Pelham on the Short Hills Bench in West St.Catharines.

Konzelmann Pinot Blanc is typically off-dry (a one on the sweetness code). It is a must for summer decks, docks and other places of sunlit distraction. There is a pear-apple-citrus tango going on in the glass but still, a hint of white flower. 

Henry of Pelham 2010 Pinot Blanc is another strong offering. I love how it says on the back label "restrained peach" in the description. Nope, I shake my head because the Peach here feels like a focused sucker-punch to the palate. The wine is truly lively and lovely and according to my father, "deadly" because it goes down far too easy. 

Ontario wines like these can make it easy for the trendy wine consumer to forget his (typically her) Pinot Grigio.

And on a damp, moody day, something bright and peach-like can make looking out on rain-drizzled street all the more balanced and pleasurable. 


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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