Thursday, July 30, 2015

PINOT BLANC: Refreshingly Under the Radar

Pinot Bianco, the mutant
Surprisingly, I've become a Student of wine, rather than the Educator that became my goal.  I continue to consume wine information in the form of many books, articles and beverage/lifestyle blogs. There are days every week when I engage wine country visitors, sharing wine trivia and subjective impressions of personal taste.  And, I even absorb retail wine displays and restaurant wine lists with a perspective I could not offer prior to becoming a Certified Wine Educator.  Yet, a Student of wine is the lifelong path that I have found myself on.  It is an exploration into a world of wonder and mystery, bottle to glass.  To that end, our congenial wine tasting group recently focused on an under the radar grape varietal, Pinot Blanc, and the expose' was enlightening for a journeyman on a path as a Student of wine.

An offspring of Burgundian Pinot Noir, this widespread white juice variety is the result of a progressive genetic alteration in the noble grape resulting in the permanent change in its DNA; the loss of its skin color pigments.  It is easy to imagine that the powerful14th century Dukes of Burgundy who famously outlawed prolific Gamay rouge in favor of Pinot Noir would have also found displeasure with the albino bastard of Pinot. Today, we can find Pinot Blanc widely dispersed in vineyards from Alsace to Austria and beyond. In Alsace, the spectrum of this grape is prominently featured in lovely Cre'mant d'Alsace traditional method sparklers, traversing to the still, mineral driven and crisp wines(Pinot Bianco) of Italy's wine regions northeast of Venice.
Fittingly for such a world traveler, our tasting group samples covered three(3) countries, with typical descriptions of apple/pear aromas, stone fruit and citrus flavors, having floral notes, as well as medium-bodied currents of mineral and honey.  As is our tasting groups quest, all wines tasted were considerably less than $20/retail.  Some of the domestic selections seemed to be out of balance, a shadow of other examples we tasted.  Prominent among the best of them was the Navarro Mendocino County 2014 Pinot Blanc, a recent sweepstakes winner at the North of the Gate wine competition.  France's northern Alsace region was well represented with the refined Domaine Allimant Laugner 2013 Vin'dAlsace showing well; its tight focus and long length on the palate found it a favorite among most of our experienced tasters.
A widely distributed selection from Italy's glacial Alto Adige DOC, brilliant and stainless steel fermented Elena Walch 2013 was my top rated selection.  Slightly restrained on the nose, it amplified those impressions of scent with a rich volume of white peach and citrus fruits, joining wet flowers and honey with rich texture and mouth-feel that gracefully danced to a moderately long finish.  I found myself pleasingly thirsty for more.  At the close of the tasting I was left with the undeniable impression that the domestic selections were not as focused, or even as refined as those from Alsace or Alto Adige, and yet all were examples of the varietal less expensive than their domestic comparisons.

Alto Adige vineyards
This pleasing international variety was certainly under the radar.  Interestingly, upon review, all of our varietal reviews(Gamay, Muscat, Barbera) have been under the radar grapes.  As I reflect upon that discovery, I am reminded that what I typically drink without analysis on a regular basis are under the radar varietal selections.  They consistently seem to offer the most interest with typically the best value and generally the quality for my particular palate. If you just know where to look, there are a broad selection of friendly, available food wines, like Pinot Blanc, that will keep wine interesting. What more could a frugal student of wine want?

Wine Sip: Germany is second only to Italy in the amount of Pinot Blanc(aka Weissburgunder) planted nationally, and the dry varietal is on a dramatic & popular increase with savvy consumers.


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