It's the wild child of Pinot Noir. Yes, it’s true: Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Bianco in Italy, is actually a pigment-free mutation of Pinot Noir, and as such is really a rather diverse group of mutants at that. What can be said about Pinot Blanc is that it produces a white wine (duh). Well, yes that would seem to be obvious, except when one thinks of the other favorite, Pinot Gris, that is well endowed with enough pigment to put many a rosé to shame.
Pinot Blanc most likely originated in Champagne or Burgundy, which seems perfectly obvious when one considers where Pinot Noir is found. Interestingly, while Pinot Blanc is still allowed in Champagne, and planted in small pockets throughout Burgundy, the grape needed a new place to call home. Such is the crazy world of genetic mutations. Pinot Blanc traveled near and wide, establishing itself in places near (such as Germany, where it is known as Weissburgunder or "the white from Burgundy") and far (such as the U.S. West Coast, where it is known as Pinot Blanc!).
So, what is Pinot Blanc, and why should we be drinking it?
Well, for starters, we should be drinking because we love variety, right? I mean, there is just so much Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc that I can take. And on the flip-side there is a whole world of variety out there awaiting us, so why not take the plunge with the decidedly not-very-outside-the-envelope Pinot Blanc?
Another reason is that unlike many other alternative whites (thinking of Friulano, Asyrtiko, and everyone’s favorite, Romorantin), Pinot Blanc is widely planted, widely available, generally well priced, and delicious. Sounds like a perfect storm of reasons, right?
OK, one more reason then: it is the consummate food wine — fruity yet not tutti-frutti, freshly acidic, yet not cutting or raw, subtly complex, and transparent. Oh, and did I mention fun? Yes, fun. These are not wines that demand attention. While they may reward attention, even a casual acquaintance with a fine Pinot Blanc can be deeply rewarding. And that really goes to the heart of the matter. Pinot Blanc rewards the level of attention you pay it.
Want to simply have fun? No problem. Looking for more? It’s there, though not intrusive. In many ways Pinot Blanc is the perfect all-purpose white wine. Now there will be plenty of you who disagree, and that’s fine, but me? Well, I’m going to start drinking more Pinot Bianco!
2008 Hugel Alsace Pinot Blanc Cuvee les Amour 12%
Quite fruity on the nose in a non-sweet way with bitter apple and unripe nectarine notes joined by dusty quartz and a lovely floral and vaguely dried flower/herb top note. Really fabulous feeling in the mouth, with richness that's backed up by fine acidity and crunchy minerality. There’s a vaguely bitter quality to the wine, though it’s by no means bitter. There’s some nice glycerin that adds flesh in the mouth but it retains great tension. The fruit is bright and fairly rich with apples and nectarines, and then it gets slapped out of the way on the moderately long finish by the acids, minerality and dried floral tones. A wonderful wine for drinking on its own or with food —trout, please! A bit simple, but so fun and refreshing. 88pts
2009 Tiefenbrunner Alto-Adige Pinot Bianco 13%
A bit shy on the nose with lots of polleny floral tones, honeycomb, dried pear and peach fruit, with a gentle green herb spice note and some river-stone mineral tones. Very focused in the mouth with fine richness but real drive across the palate. There’s a nice balance between mineral and fruit here, with the more savory aspects tending to be a bit more dominant. This has a light almond tones across the front half and then really fresh bitter apple fruit on the backend with a high-toned spicy accent. There’s a hint of alcoholic sweetness on the backend and a lovely finish with bitter apple peels, a touch of white pepper and a quartzy mineral finish. 89pts
2008 Alma Rosa Sta Rita Hills Pinot Blanc La Encantada Vineyard 14.1%
Sweet lemons on the nose with a gentle cantaloupe background notes and growing aromas of green pear and peach fill the glass. A nice, almost gardenia-like white floral note emerges with air. Round and ripe yet with really fine acids that cut through the mid-palate, lending the flavors a vivid citrus quality. There’s also a nice baked apple note and some pear and kumquat on the backend that leads to a nicely mineral finish that ends on a nice key lime note. This is zesty and bright,combining tension and richness. The finish adds a certain aromatic peachy/peach pit quality with time, adding to that key lime pie note. 88pts
2008 Anne Amie Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc 13.6%
A decidedly cheesy edge on the nose adds complexity to the rich apple and berry fruited nose. There’s a slight candied edge and some background smoky tones but the amount of red berry fruit here is surprising. In the mouth this is super-refined and crisp with fabulous pear and apricot fruits. There’s a nice mineral edge, and a light creaminess that adds a little key lime pie to the vibrant finish. This is round with a sweet fruitiness yet remains taut and energetic. 89pts
—Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth