Saturday, July 16, 2016

Alsatian Pinot Blanc

When we hear the word "pinot" we think of Pinot Noir since it is arguably the finest red wine grape there is.  Actually pinot is a family of grapes characterized by an unstable genome, meaning the grapes tend to mutate in the vineyards.  So while Pinot Noir deserves our attention as the overachiever in the family; Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meuneur and others have all emerged over time in European vineyards and become commercial types in their own right.  Contrasted with Pinot Noir, however, all of the offshoots are ordinary.

When we hear the word "Auxerrois" (oh-ser-WAH) we think, "Huh?" Auxerrois is another European grape of ordinary stature.  Its singular claim to fame is its sibling relationship with Chardonnay.  Genetically they both share the same parentage resulting from an inadvertent vineyard crossing of Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir and in some French locales they are treated as one and the same type. While Chardonnay ended up with the noble flavor profile attributes, however, Auxerrois was relatively shortchanged.  At its best Auxerrois offers citrus and musk flavors in a full-bodied, low acid package.

So where are we going with this discussion?  I've made it no secret that the Alsace region of France is my favorite for white wine production.  While the marquee varietals like Gewurztraminer and Riesling get the critical acclaim and Pinot Gris has commercial success, both Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois have their own claim to fame albeit one that is easy to overlook: they both have their finest expressions in Alsace.   Prolific to a fault in the vineyard but when attended to vigilantly there and in the winery, these two varieties in combination will complement each other as well as any two white grapes.

But there's more...

Alsatian Pinot Blanc is not a varietal wine.  It is not a wine made from the Pinot Blanc grape type, although it could be.  Alsatian Pinot Blanc is actually a white wine using any or all of the family of pinot grapes allowed in the region, including Auxerrois.  So Alsatian Pinot Blanc may actually have every other allowed pinot grape but no actual Pinot Blanc.  One common style is a Pinot Blanc that is 100% Auxerrois. Alsatian Pinot Blanc usually does contain a goodly amount of Pinot Blanc juice though since Pinot Blanc is the most widely planted grape in the region.

In the store at this time we have the 2014 JB Adam "Les Natures" Alsatian Pinot Blanc which is a fine example of type.  It is a medium-bodied dry white exhibiting almond and stone fruit flavors with minerality in the background.  "Les Natures" refers to their biodynamic certification.  Contrasting examples in the store include the 2013 PJ Valkenberg Rheinhessen Pinot Blanc and the 2015 Elena Walch Alto Adige Pinot Bianco.

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