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Winecast 27 – A Tale of Two Pinots

Winecast 27 – A Tale of Two Pinots

by Tim Elliott on June 8, 2005

When I saw the post introducing Wine Blogging Wednesday #10 over at My Adventures in the Breadbox, I thought to myself it was about time we went back to the white side of the wine world after several forays into the red (or rose) zone. But “white pinot”? What’s that all about?

It seems that our old red friend, the Pinot Noir, has mutated over the millennia and has produced another related white varietal most commonly known as Pinot Gris. Yes, yes, I know that “gris” translates to “grey” but the juice is quite white even with extended skin contact. The problem with this variety is that is goes by so many names depending upon where it is grown that it is hard to know what you are drinking without a scorecard. A Google search turned up the following synonyms:

* Pinot Grigio (Italy)
* Pinot Beurot (Loire Valley, France)
* Ruländer (Austria and Germany, Romania, sweet)
* Grauburgunder or Grauer burgunder (Austria and Germany, dry)
* Grauklevner (Germany)
* Malvoisie (Loire Valley, France and Switzerland)
* Tokay d’Alsace (Alsace) (currently being renamed due to EU regulations)
* Auxerrois Gris (Alsace)
* Fromentau (Languedoc, France)
* Fromentot (France)
* Fauvet (France)
* Gris Cordelier (France)
* Grauer Mönch (Germany)
* Monemrasia
* Crvena Klevanjka (Croatia)
* Szürkebarát (Hungary)

Yikes, that’s quite a list! Another interesting point is that the style varies depending upon the region. This can range from the light and lean Pinot Grigio’s from Italy to the more substantial full fruit Oregon style to the classic floral and silky Alsatian wines.

For this event, started with a wine I spied on the by-the-glass selection of the local eatery where I just finished dinner. It was a 2003 Pinot Grigio from Stella of the Umbria region in Italy. I found this wine to be almost clear in color with the slightest hit of straw and a lean fruity nose typical of the varietal. On the palette it had nice citrus and apple flavors, good acidity and a dry, slightly minerally finish. A very good start to this evening’s festivities earning an 8.5/10 on my scale. A quick Google later I found this to be a fine value at only $6 a bottle.

Next, I decided to pull a Pinot Grigio from California out of the cellar that a friend gave me last summer. It is from La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi of the 2002 vintage that retails for $15. This is another label from the prolific Mondavi family that was started in 1994 to, “celebrate their Italian heritage from California vineyards”; as usual, brilliant marketing 😉 The winemaker’s notes reveal that this wine is a blend of 98% Pinot Grigio and 2% Tocai Friulano, the top native grape from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. He also points out the fruit came from Monterey County (87%), the Los Carneros (7%), and 3% each from El Dorado and Santa Maria Valley. Thankfully, the wine did not see any oak and was not subjected to the rigors of malolactic fermentation, so I expected it to be full in fruit flavors with a nice dose of acidity making this a good match for shellfish (oysters, anyone?!). This wine was also shy on the color with a bit of the old yellow/green, but had a much more powerful citrus nose than the previous Grigio. Nice lemon and pear flavors and bracing acidity finish bone dry. A solid 8.5/10.

Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Gris that used to be widely planted in Burgundy. This was until the Appellation Controlee laws knocked out Pinot Blanc in favor of Chardonnay. The grape is most identified in France today with the Alsace region where it is the number 3 grape behind Riesling and Sylvaner. Pinot Blanc also has some identity issues, but they seem to be isolated to California where much of what is labeled Pinot Blanc is actually Melon de Bourgogne, also called Muscadet in France’s Loire region. Like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc is quite malleable to the hand of the winemaker, taking oak well so wines can be light and fruity to big and oaky. As with Chardonnay, I prefer my Pinot Blanc unoaked, so I chose a bottling from the reliable Trimbach of Alsace. It is their 2001 Pinot Blanc that is blended with a bit of Pinot Auxerrois and sells for about $15 a bottle. This wine is straw in color with a hint of green, has a lean citrus nose and with apple and nut flavors. Another bone dry wine with high acidity, it would be a natural with food. I found this wine to be delicious and earn a 9/10.

So what was learned in this tale of Two Pinots? That they are surprisingly similar in flavor and great food wines. I think I like the more elegant style of the Pinot Blanc, but as can be seen from my tasting notes, it was a close race. The best of tasting goes to the Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2001 with best value to the Stella Pinot Grigio 2003.

Thanks to Alice from My Adventures in the Breadbox for a great theme; I can’t wait until the next installment!

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