Dom. Ernest Burn Alsace Pinot Blanc 2001
With its fairytale aesthetic, Germanic influence and strong emphasis on white wines, Alsace is one of France’s most unique viticultural regions. This hotly contested stretch of land running north to south on France’s northeastern border has spent much of its existence as German territory. Nestled in the rain shadow of the Vosges mountains, it is one of the driest regions of France but enjoys a long and cool growing season. Autumn humidity facilitates the development of “noble rot” for the production of late-picked sweet wines, Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles.
The best wines of Alsace can be described as aromatic and honeyed, even when completely dry. The region’s “noble” varieties, the only ones permitted within Alsace’s 51 Grands Crus vineyards, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Pinot Gris.
Riesling is Alsace’s main specialty. In its youth, Alsatian Riesling is dry, fresh and floral, but develops complex mineral and flint character with age. Gewurztraminer is known for its signature spice and lychee aromatics, and is often utilized for late harvest wines. Pinot Gris is prized for its combination of crisp acidity and savory spice as well as ripe stone fruit flavors. Muscat, vinified dry, tastes of ripe green grapes and fresh rose petal.
Other varieties grown here include Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Chasselas, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir—the only red grape permitted in Alsace and mainly used for sparkling rosé known as Crémant d’Alsace. Most Alsatian wines are single-varietal bottlings and unlike other French regions, are also labeled with the variety name.
Approachable, aromatic and pleasantly plush on the palate, Pinot blanc is a white grape variety born out of a mutation of pink-skinned Pinot gris (which was born out of a mutation of Pinot noir) and is perhaps most associated with the Alsace region of France. The variety is also is quite successful in Germany and Austria, where it is known as Weissburgunder. Although its heritage is Burgundian, today it is rarely found there and instead thrives throughout central Europe, especially in the mountainous Alto Adige region of Italy, where it is called Pinot bianco. Fine examples can also be found in Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Oregon’s Willamette Valley boasts some wonderful examples of Pinot blanc, as do some cooler pockets of California.
In the Glass
Pinot Blanc is typically a full-bodied wine and expresses pleasing aromas of crisp pear, peach, lemon zest, crushed gravel and white flowers. The finest examples can possess a stony minerality and with age can develop intriguing notes of honey, vanilla and almond.
Delicate Pinot Blanc works well with lighter fare such as salads, seafood, chicken or turkey, but is truly at its best with Alsatian pairings like choucrout garnie, onion tarts or the region’s soft cheeses like Munster.
Pinot Blanc’s delicate aromatics, full body, and moderate acidity make it a great alternative to the world’s most popular white wine. Anyone experiencing Chardonnay fatigue and looking to try something new would benefit from giving Pinot blanc a try.