52 Wines in 52 Weeks: The Mutant Pinot Blanc

Drink Lists Pinot Blanc
52 Wines in 52 Weeks: The Mutant Pinot Blanc

I love the wayward, polyamorous family of grapes known as Pinot. One of the reasons Pinot Noir is such a tough grape to grow is its tendency toward point mutations, in which a rogue cane appears on a vine sporting totally different grapes. Pinot Gris, Pinot Munier and Pinot Blanc all sprang randomly from Pinot Noir vines. Pinot Blanc is a “white” grape, but in fact the berries are tinted and often multicolored, ranging from green to pale lilac to pink, with a slightly frosted appearance. Occasionally individual berries will even be multiple colors.

If Pinot Gris does nothing for you, you might want to look into Pinot Blancs. Where the “gray” Pinot tends to be sharp and citrusy, Pinot Blanc has a rounded, less acidic character and dominant notes of apple, pear and quince.

Pinot Blanc’s happy place is Alsace, where it is made into lots of highly tasty still wines and is also the preferred varietal for sparkling Cremant d’Alsace (it can be amended with other wines; the ones I have included here might contain a percentage of something else). But it is also raised elsewhere, including much of the west coast, Italy (where it is known as Pino Bianco) and Austria and Hungary, among other regions. Pinot Blanc is a terroir-sponge so if you pick one up and hate it, don’t give up on it until you’ve tried at least a couple that were made somewhere else.

10 Bottles to Try

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Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France, $30)

Family owned and operated since the dawn of time, Boxler is the old-school real deal and their wines reflect it. Their Pinot Blanc is 100% varietal in some years and blended in others, depending on what’s going on (pinots are tricky). That said, the unblended one I tasted is noteworthy for extreme silkiness and a honey and apple nose. A bit yeasty and a tiny bit off-dry. Lemon merengue pie on the medium-long finish. This is one of the most expensive Pinot Blancs from Alsace and definitely the priciest on this list. But it’s delicious and worth your time if you can get your hands on it.

Albert Mann Cremant d’Alsace (Alsace, France, $20)

The operative word here is suave. There are also Pinots Noir and Auxerrois in here, just for the record. Delicate strands of bubbles, pastry nose, bready and rocky character with relatively subtle fruit notes. A seafood wine if there ever was one.

Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France, $15)

This is a lively character and completely delightful, and also simple, which I absolutely don’t mean as a negative. Apples, lemons, traces of spice and stone on the finish, which is crisp. That’s pretty much it. This wine’s dream date is cheese. It will compliment anything from burrata to stilton. Grilled cheese sandwich? Sure. Cacio e pepe? I think so. Gnocchi? Certainly. White pizza? Absolutely. Do you like laying a slice of sharp cheddar on a slice of tart apple and munching on it as a snack? So does this stuff. Have you ever roasted sliced pears topped with Parmesan? You should! And drink this with it.

Cerulean (Washington, $32)

One of the interesting things about the Pinot family is they are mutants, not only botanically but prone to serious terroir-based individuation in how they express themselves. In Alsace, a Pinot Blanc is very likely to be appley and stony. I’ve learned by trial and error that in the northerly half of the west coast something different happens-they develop tropical notes. This full-bodied Blanc from Washington is deep, almost viscous-looking gold in the glass and bursting with lychee, melons and I think pineapple? I think pineapple. It’s definitely dry, it’s just a lot curvier than its European cousins. It, and really everything on this list, is perfectly lovely to drink solo, but it’s a versatile food wine as well and with its slightly richer spot on the spectrum it can stand up to heavier and stronger flavors than the most delicate ones.

Francois Baur Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France, $15)

I love Pinot Blanc, especially when it’s Alsatian. This wine is light, youthful, and not meant for the cellar. It’s meant for the corkscrew, and right now would be good. Lively, simple (in a good way) with a ton of pear notes, some tart apple, a hint of lemon zest, a trace of lime. I would not particularly rush to pair this with strong-flavored red meats, but other than that, do what yu like with this one. It’s incredibly easygoing.

Girasole Pinot Blanc (Oregon, $15)

An almost colorless PB from the exotic land of Oregon, this wine might be pale in the glass but not on the palate. Vivacious and lively, with green melon flavors alongside the honeysuckle and peach that seems to pop out of this grape when it’s grown in the pacific northwest. Cold-fermented, gentle on the tongue and light in all the best ways. A beautiful hot-day drink.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace (Alsace, France, $15)

Albrecht is a long-respected name in Alsatian sparkling wine, and this wine is a perfect example of why you don’t need ultra-deep pockets for something incredible. For what a bottle of Dom Perignon 2005 would cost you could get nearly a case of this, and you’d probably be equally happy. Made from Pinot Blanc grapes and showing the soft green apple note characteristic of that varietal, this is an ultra-elegant, crisp, refined, layered and well-structured wine. A creamy texture, beautiful beading, and a long, light, lemony finish. It is sophisticated, versatile, and approachable. As with so many of these wines, this would have an affinity for food from the same region, and Alsace tends toward the rich and substantial (think pork and game and stews and tarte flambée). Perhaps I’m a heretic but I’d pair this with anything.

Maysara Autees Pinot Blanc (Oregon, $18)

Whatever else Pinot Blanc typically is, the word “rich” comes to mind relatively seldom. This one is. It’s voluptuous and almost tropical (I get a strong, almost Gewurtztraminer-like hit of lychee). There’s also a strong honeysuckle note that will remind you of a Viognier. Under that, the main fruit here is ripe apricots. This is a well-structured wine with pleasant, firm acidity. Do you like cheese? Then you and this wine already have something in common.

Trimbach Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France, $15)

In the “summer in a glass” category, Trimbach’s Pinot Blanc is a light, highly quaffable wine that I’d classify as a “fruit salad” if it didn’t have that dependable Alsatian minerality keeping everything beautifully in balance. Fruit notes include peaches, green apple, ripe pear, apricot, and maybe a touch of quince. Stellar acidity, and reined in enough that you can easily enjoy this wine with a green salad. But it also enjoys poultry, nuts and goat cheese.

Terlano “Clasico” (Alto Adige-Trentino, Italy, $22)

Technically there’s some chardonnay in here, but I include it because it’s sooooo good. Terlano wines are superb, and this is no exception, with a lovely herbaceous and flowery nose (mint, sage, apple blossom, pears) and a long slinky finish after an unfurling stone fruit core (white peach seems dominant). Warm, structured, aromatic and all-around delicious. What do you pair it with? What have you got?

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