Wines by Grape
Pinot Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety (or more accurately a white grape Pinot mutation sharing its genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris et al) used in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines. Although not the most glamorous member of the Pinot family, the variety has proven its worth in various European wine regions, including Alsace in northeast France, the Alto Adige region of Italy, and in parts of Germany and Austria.
The variety is often regarded as Chardonnay’s understudy; like Chardonnay it produces a similar medium- to full-bodied style of wine with good acidity, and responds well to oak maturation. Pinot Blanc’s varietal characters include apple and almond, and sometimes a touch of smokiness, although – like Chardonnay – it is a palette for winemaker intervention, and flavours often depend on style.
Pinot Blanc’s spiritual home is arguably Alsace, where it is overshadowed somewhat by the region’s undoubted stars, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Pinot Blanc wines from the region are typified by almond aromas, with a hint of spice. On the palate they show a range of apple flavours, usually at the floury and creamy end of the spectrum. They may display some light mineral characteristics, but these are generally muted by the oak treatment favoured in the region. Sparkling Cremant d’Alsace wines, on the other hand, tend to be more crisp, often exhibiting a variety of nutty flavours.
By a quirk of Alsace’s appellation laws, wines that are labeled as Pinot Blanc may in fact have an undisclosed proportion of Auxerrois, a similar grape variety which has slightly less acidity. Curiously, this rule does not apply to Auxerrois-labeled wines in Alsace.
In Burgundy, where the grape is thought to have originated, it is still permitted in many Grand Cru vineyards (although rarely makes its way into any of them). The variety is also one of the little-seen varieties permitted in the Champagne blend, playing second fiddle to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Outside of France, Pinot Blanc is planted widely in northwest Italy, where it is known as Pinot Bianco. Here, it is made in a lighter, crisper style that rarely sees any oak intervention, and is often blended with other varieties. Pinot Bianco is also used in the production of Italian sparkling wines: most notably Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne.