Tuesday, July 7, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 8: Auxerrois

We first became acquainted with this obscure white grape years ago when we were told it was an archaic name for Chardonnay, which was close but not quite.  Auxerrois (oh-sehr-WAH) is actually a full sibling of Chardonnay, sharing the same parentage of Gounais Blanc and Pinot Noir but apparently not the exact same DNA.  When Chardonnay was the global rage thirty years ago, Auxerrois vines were conveniently mistaken for Chardonnay in northern Italy and South Africa with resulting wines being marketed as Chardonnay.  In parts of France Auxerrois is a synonym for Chardonnay so those places may legally market their product as such and within its home in Alsace, Auxerrois may be sold as Pinot Blanc.  It's no wonder the grape has an identity problem!

Pinot Blanc is the most widely planted grape in Alsace and the most common blending partner for Auxerrois.  Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Bianco in Italy, is one of the family of pinot grapes that have resulted from mutations in the vineyards over centuries.  Pinot Noir, with its unstable genome, has parented all of these mutations.  In Alsace, when a label says Pinot Blanc, the region recognizes the wine to be some mixture of white pinot grapes, so it may include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (Grigio), Auxerrois, and even free-run Pinot Noir.  Or it may be 100% of any of them, including Auxerrois.

Auxerrois is the third most widely planted grape in Alsace and because it is the quintessential Alsatian blending grape it is by default the least well known in the region.  At its most common, Auxerrois is the base wine for Edelzwicker, the white jug wine of the northern Alsace.  It is also prominently blended with Pinot Blanc in the sparkling Cremants d'Alsace.

As a blender, when blended with other pinot-family types, Auxerrois adds rich musky spicy aromas in a low-acid full-bodied oily format with moderate honey flavor.  In the Pinot Blanc blend, the Pinot Blanc adds the light fresh crispness.  In the hands of lesser winemaking talents, Auxerrois alone tends toward cabbagy aromas, lacking mid-palate flavors, and flabbiness in body.  Only when yields are limited in the vineyard and modern super-clean winemaking facilities are utilized do the racy concentrated citrussy aromas and flavors dominate.

There are sixty+ names in existence for Auxerrois with Pinot Auxerrois and Auxerrois Blanc leading the pack.  Auxerrois is a cold weather grape and has performed well in Canada.  It is also planted in Oregon and Michigan and would seem to have a fine future in select vineyards across northern America.  The fresh citrussy/spicy Auxerrois blends complement all kinds of seafood, soups and salads, veggies, and Asian cuisine making Auxerrois a fine new selection for American wine lovers.

The Friday, July 10th, at our weekly After 5 wine tasting we'll be featuring examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Please join us!

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