Pinot blanc gets overlooked. Known as pinot blanc in France, pinot bianco in Italy and weissburgunder in Austria and Germany, the grape is a branch on the pinot family tree. The white grape is a point mutation of pinot noir, sharing a genetic fingerprint with that red grape variety.
Easygoing and fresh from start to finish, pinot blancs pair well with the lightness of summer dishes and patio dining.
While overlooked, pinot blanc’s interplay with food makes it enchanting. Often mistaken for chenin blanc or regarded as chardonnay’s understudy, it’s a grape with a hefty dose of virtue. Alsatian styles are full-bodied, with stone fruit flavors and mineral undertones. Italian expressions are crisp and dry, with vivid acidity and floral aromatics. Many are wines to drink young, and are not meant for cellaring. Pinot blanc offers good value, costing far less than its more glamorous sibling pinot gris. It’s a friendly wine that can please a drinker looking for fruit or structure, because it comprises both.
Terry Theise, a wine importer, wine writer and author of the recently published "What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime," notes that while pinot blancs are not as cherished as the truly great varietals, they have their place. “A small minority can be interesting, and a larger number are highly useful ‘brasserie’ wines that are just casual enough to wash down the grub, but just good enough not to insult one’s intelligence,” he said. “I always keep a few of that type of pinot blanc in my cellar.”
A consistent choice is Elk Cove pinot blanc (Willamette Valley, 2018). It’s under $20, easy to find, and opens with honeysuckle and stone fruit aromas, with a touch of spice. Juicy flavors of orchard fruit and citrus are rounded out with chalky minerality.
“I love pinot blanc, especially the rounder, more aromatic ones from Alsace and the Pacific Northwest, as a great summertime option for grilled seafood and vegetables,” said Krista Slater of the Expat in Athens. “It can have the height of chardonnay, but more freshness and lift on the palate.” Her wine list includes Eyrie pinot blanc (Willamette Valley, 2016). “It has this cool baked pear/fresh pineapple thing going on, with weight and aromatics. It’s dry and clean and goes with everything I want to eat in July and August,” she said.
Eric Crane, sommelier and director of training at Atlanta’s Empire Distributors, has a fondness for pinot blancs. “I like them because they have some structural integrity, and they’re super quenchy,” he said.
Kettmeir pinot bianco (Alto Adige, Italy, 2017) easily could fall in the “quenchy” category. From the area where some of Europe’s highest grape vines cling to alpine slopes, it has lifted aromatics. It is scented with spring flowers, and it has the fruity sensation of green apple and stone fruit. It is bone dry, but with a richness. Fresh, crisp and clean, its salinity and delicate minerality make it a great accent for sashimi, crudo and tartare.
Sarah Pierre of Glenwood Park’s 3 Parks Wine included Weingut Brand weissburgunder trocken (Pfalz, Germany, 2017) among the bottles that members of her wine club receive each month. “It’s crazy good,” she said. “We used it in the beginning of summer and have been flying through it ever since.” The one-liter bottle is made using organic and biodynamic farming practices, with grapes grown in limestone-rich soils. The mineral richness integrates with citrus and green apple flavors. She also recommends Terlan pinot bianco (Alto Adige, Italy), with its subtle stony minerality. “It’s an insanely delicious pinot bianco under $25,” she said. “Their mountain fruit gives their wine so much expression.”
At Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland, where you can sip wine during dinner or pick up a bottle at the wine shop, Operations Director Joy Pugh recommends Hugel Cuvee Les Amours pinot blanc (Alsace, France, 2016). “It’s a steal for summer — pale, straw-yellow in color, with white flowers, apple and pear on the nose, with a hint of thyme,” she said. Widely available at wine shops, it’s fresh and juicy, with pear and ripe apple flavor.
Excluded from the noble grapes of Alsace, pinot blanc is “like a less expressive and a little more acidic pinot gris,” said Clarke Anderson, beverage manager for Ford Fry’s Rocket Farm Restaurants group. The wine list at Decatur’s No. 246 includes J. Hoffstatter (Alto Adige, Italy, 2015) by the glass and bottle. It has what Anderson calls “gravelly minerality,” growing in granite and schist rocks. “Pinot fruit is always peach and melon to me,” he said, and “it’s as elevated as the aromatic profile goes, with almost tropical flowers.” Pair a glass with 246’s baked ricotta and grilled bread.
If you suffer from chardonnay fatigue or pinot grigio lethargy this time of the year, consider the humble pinot blanc, the easygoing white with nuanced character and inherent finesse.