Does anyone find the various varietals that start with the word pinot confusing? I certainly was, for many years.
They actually all are cousins originating from pinot noir, a grape that has unstable genes prone to mutations. Pinot meuniere is a red variant, often used in champagne and occasionally as a still wine similar in nose and palate to its progenitor. Pinot gris is a mutation that produces white wines, the grape known as pinot grigio in Italy. While gris and grigio are synonymous and the grapes identical, some classify them as different varietals, mainly because stylistically, the Italian expression of this grape, crisp, light, dry, is so different than elsewhere. This just adds to the confusion.
There is yet another mutation, that of pinot gris, which gives rise to a ubiquitous but often overlooked grape, pinot blanc. Grown all over the Old Word and New, pinot blanc is particularly known in the Alsace region of France, and in Germany/Austria where it is called weissburgunder, meaning white Burgundy, a reference to the French region where it was previously grown. Nowadays almost all white Burgundy is made of chardonnay, a grape that pinot blanc has often been confused with, the two looking quite alike on the vine.
Pinot blanc makes medium bodied wines with round flavors bordering on sweet, somewhat lighter bodied than chardonnay. Over the years I have tasted many pinot blancs in our weekly tastings but have never sought this wine out. It turns out I am not alone.
New York Times writer Eric Asimov, in an essay published recently (5/8/2014) summed it up well: “If it were possible to probe the collective consciousness of wine drinkers for their impression of pinot blanc, you would be left with little of consequence. Few love it, few hate it, few give it much thought. It’s not the dominant grape in any particular region.”
Be it as it may, every once in a while a bottle comes along that attracts notice. I recently came across the one you see in the photo, a 2012 Muri-Gries pinot bianco (as the grape is called in Italy), from Alto Adige, a northernmost appellation immediately south of Austria where the population is Germanic and so are most of the wines. A straw gold wine with a floral and yet chalky bouquet, it has a very floral, almost sweet entry reminiscent of viognier, full bodied yet crisp, with pear and apricot flavors, complex with a series of phases in the palate, clean and dry, with a pleasantly acidic, food friendly finish.
Wow! What a refreshing break from the run of the mill.
Located in the Southern Tyrol, formerly a medieval castle, Muri-Gries has been a Benedictine monastery since the mid-1800’s, the imposing Germanic building in the picture above, making wine as have most monasteries since time immemorial. Its output is mostly a red (Lagren) and an assortment of whites common to the region.
Pinot bianco has some of its most unique expression in Italy, where it is extensively planted, mostly in northern regions like Alto Adige and Friuli, and vinified in a wide variety of styles. While still a second fiddle to pinot grigio in sales, it is worth looking for and experience.In a widely diversifying wine world where bland, industrial wines are increasingly common, a well crafted, rare gem is always a unique find.Searching and discovering such wines is half the fun, the surprise and delight of the experience the remainder.