Wine Guy: Experiment with the other white pinot - blanc

The January 2009 edition of Food & Wine Magazine named pinot blanc as one of the “50 Trends to Try” in the New Year.

Being included on the list may be a statement about today’s economy, as pinot blanc is often referred to as a poor man’s chardonnay. However, this wine guy prefers to think of the varietal as more of a yet-to-be fully appreciated underdog.

Pinot blanc is a mutation of pinot gris, which itself was a mutation of pinot noir. This lineage wouldn’t make one think that it would be similar to chardonnay, but invariably the two draw comparisons.

Both chardonnay and pinot blanc deliver subdued aromatics. Flavor profiles are also similar, often including pear, apple and melon. Both are usually full-bodied whites, but pinot blanc is higher in acidity, making it somewhat easier to partner with food.

Chardonnay has become our culture’s Bud Light of wine. It is easy drinking, feels good on the palate, but all too often isn’t particularly memorable or a successful food partner. An ocean of it is made in California and therefore it could be reasoned that more poor quality chardonnay exists than wine from any other varietal.

This is where pinot blanc finds its niche. It has a little more cache, sort of like an independent film vs. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for co-eds in tight jeans hungrily chasing boys around the globe, but when the intellectual side finally kicks in, well, you still only have a mass-produced chardonnay.

Roughly 1,000 acres of pinot blanc exist in California (mostly near Monterey), or about 1 percent the total acreage of chardonnay. But, most wineries producing the former truly care about crafting the varietal. Byron and Chalone are two such producers.

Pinot blanc is planted in higher concentrations in so-called “Old World” European winemaking regions. In Italy, where it is called pinot bianco, around 7,000 acres of it are planted, and in Alsace, France, a little more than 3,000 acres are dedicated to the varietal.

Austrian producers often transform pinot blanc into the fascinating dessert wine, trockenbeerenauslese (pronounced trock-in-beer-in-ahs-lay-say). TBA’s (for short) are as complex and delicious to drink as the word is to say. Think of an ultra-rich Sauterne with more acidity.

Old World wine consortiums continue to be stuck in the past as far as not listing varietal names on wine labels. Not so for the majority of pinot blanc producers. The European regions that produce pinot blanc also usually list the grape name on the bottle, making it consumer friendly and easier to experiment with an international wine.

Summed up, wine shops probably won’t confuse you with too many choices, but what’s available is usually of good quality.

With classic resolutions to lose weight and get healthy this year, pinot blanc is a wine not to be overlooked as it is a wonderful partner for healthier fare such as salads, scallops, and lighter fish dishes.

So, why aren’t more wineries producing pinot blanc? Well, to be honest, a truly great chardonnay is usually more interesting than a top-notch pinot blanc.

While that may be true, life is too short to only drink Bud Light.