What do Pinot Blanc and Rodney Dangerfield have in common? Neither one gets any respect.
Okay, so you don't remember Rodney Dangerfield, the standup comedian. He had great timing, especially when uttered the line, "I tell you, I don't get any respect."
Well, I tell you, neither does Pinot Blanc.
More than once, Pinot Blanc has been mistaken for Chardonnay. In northeastern Italy, where Pinot Bianco does pretty good, wineries thought they were growing Pinot Bianco until it was pointed out to them that it was Chardonnay. The two varieties look that similar.
And they can taste similar. Confident tasters have been fooled thinking they were tasting Chardonnay when the wine was Pinot Blanc. Newly fermented, before oak has had added its unique seasoning, both varieties taste slightly green with faint spice, and decent acidity. And while the wines carry a subtle minerality, Pinot Blanc has the creamier texture.
But then, put a little French oak on Pinot Blanc and the differences become more difficult to define. The higher resinous profile of American oak is too strong for either Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay, but the subtle spiciness of French oak is more complimentary.
Perhaps, because of Chardonnay's dominance, Pinot Blanc is not respected by the wine community, in general, except for a few places in Europe and North America.
Pinot Blanc in Europe
When asked about Pinot Blanc, the English wine writer, Oz Clarke, said that he didn't know of any Pinot Blancs that were "star quality," like Chardonnay. Talk about lacking respect!
Perhaps Clarke was thinking of where in the world you might find Pinot Blanc. Top of list are the Alsace region of France and Italy's northern tiers like Alto Adige. Elsewhere, California, Oregon, Germany and Austria have respectable acreage of Pinot Blanc.
Pinot Blanc was originally found in Burgundy as a mutation of Pinot Noir. But the Burgundians eventually dropped Pinot Blanc as an AOC variety and the variety found a home in Alsace. Still, wine laws can be retrogressive, and Pinot Blanc was allowed to hang on in Burgundy but only as Bourgogne Blanc.
Alsace growers consider Pinot Blanc good enough to rank among the best varieties, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. In Alsace, Pinot Blanc is often blended with Auxerrois, a widely planted variety in Alsace, although it's not valued enough to stand on its own as a varietal.
And, Cremant d'Alsace, an AOC wine since the late 1970s, is made mainly from Pinot Blanc, often with Auxerrois, although other varieties are favored in this popular Alsace fizz.
Across the Rhine river from Alsace, German winegrowers have Weissburgunder (aka Pinot Blanc) in fifth place, surging ahead of Müller-Thurgau, once considered a serious threat to Riesling, Germany's premier white wine. Oak is rarely seen in Weissburgunder, but many of the wines are finished with a little sweetness, in a style the Germans call halbtrocken, that literally means "half dry."
Pinot Blanc is also popular in Italy's northeast, mainly Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli and Veneto where Pinot Blanc is called Pinot Bianco. Tank fermentation and no wood is common with Pinot Bianco in the Italian style. The wines have a fresh fruitiness, crisp acidity and a moderate clean finish.
Pinot Blanc in America
With all of the attention lavished on Chardonnay in California, it's little wonder that Pinot Blanc languished in the Golden State for years. Lately, though, a growing list of wineries, up and down the state, have taken a second look at Pinot Blanc.
The preferred style is tank fermentation with a short time in new or used oak barrels, or the full-blown Chardonnay treatment of French oak barrel fermentation and aging in new French oak. Which begs the question: Is the wine still Pinot Blanc or an ersatz Chardonnay?
Most of California Pinot Blanc is fermented in Monterey County and the Napa Valley. Noteworthy wineries include Robert Sinskey, J. Wilkes, Au Bon Climat, Chalone, Rams Gate, Chateau St. Jean, Valley of the Moon Winery, Steele and Saddleback Cellars.
Further north in Oregon's Willamette Valley, there was a time when a small band of winemakers struggled to define Oregon Chardonnay, with some deciding that Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris could be Oregon's best white wine companion for its world famous Pinot Noirs. Oregon Pinot Blancs to look for include those from Elk Cove and WillaKenzie.
Wineries in the rest of the country seem to ignore Pinot Blanc and the variety is mostly unknown in South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
For many of the same features found in Chardonnay, except the higher prices, show a little respect for Pinot Blanc.
Next post: Look to Lake County
Leave a message or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org