Pinot Blanc(ish)

Exploring the complex flavors (and semantics) of Alsatian Pinot Blanc


Wine is so confusing! I love a good Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Bianco. But what do I love when it's not necessarily a Pinot Blanc?
Let me explain. Alsace is unique in France, having created its appellation system by varietal instead of region.  Except when they haven't. Alsace Pinot Gris is Pinot Gris, Alsace Riesling is Riesling. But when it comes to Pinot Blanc, we run into semantic difficulty. You see, Pinot Blanc in French can be roughly translated as the white varieties of the Pinot family of grapes. So, while there is a Pinot Blanc grape, there are also Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (when vinified as a white wine) and Auxerrois in the Blanc Pinot family. 
Yeah, it’s a bit confusing. But what’s even more confusing is that the wine labelled as “Alsace Pinot Blanc” can be a blend of all four of these grapes, though typically one finds the variety Pinot Blanc blended with Auxerrois. (The Auxerrois adds spice and richness, also helping to buffer the natural high acidity of Pinot Blanc.) This lineup of wines showed like classic Alsatian Pinot Blancs, expressing the variety’s floral and spice-accented apple fruits with firm acidity. While they may not be 100% Pinot Blanc, these wines certainly are delicious, perfect for sipping on their own, and fabulous with food. This spring add Pinot Blanc to your seasonal menus. It’s a great way to add some snap to the table, and these wines really do pair very well with the light fresh flavors of the season. 

2009 Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvee les Amours Alsace 12% $15

A touch of woodsy-ness greets the nose, followed by mineral and white pepper-inflected white pear fruit topped with a gentle floral tone. A bit of a fruit bomb, in a good way. This packs in vibrant acidity and a modest degree of richness while delivering intense flavors of fresh apple and apricot fruit, with soft melon accents. The finish is rather long and adds in great mineral cut and a gently plummy floral nuance in the mouth. This is really quite impressive and delicious. 90 points

2009 Trimbach Pinot Blanc Vin d'Alsace 12.5% $15

Broad, floral and stony on the nose with some roasted peach or apricot fruit and lots of woodland aromas, all topped with a hint of spice.  With lovely balance, this brings bright acidity and a touch of richness to the palate, delivering white pear and mineral flavors early, followed by more floral and peachy notes on the back end. This is quite precise and focused with a snappy, tense quality that drives the moderately long and nicely white peachy aromatic finish. Classic Pinot Blanc. 89pts

2011 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc Vin d'Alsace 12.5% $15

2011 Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc Vin d'Alsace 12.5% $15

A bit leafy on the nose, with low apricot fruits topped by soapy floral aromas and a touch of gingery spice and hints of green tea. Bright and focused in the mouth, this has little excess weight and really opens in the mouth with impressive floral perfumes that add a tropical cast to the array of citrus, peach and mineral flavors of the mid-palate. The florality persists on the moderately long finish, which turns a bit salty and decidedly mineral. Very spicy and floral inner mouth perfumes make this rather distinct. 88 points

2009 Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc Vin d'Alsace 12% $25

50% Pinot Blanc, 50% Auxerrois

Floral and a bit starchy on the nose, with hints of pea soup topped with crab apple and white pepper nuance. A bit of a small wine in the mouth, this is fresh with juicy acidity but also seems to be just a touch sweet with simple, slightly grassy/herbal flavors of apples that show a raw peanut-like nuttiness. The finish reveals a bit of perfume and some power, but this remains a bit simple. 86 points

2010 Henri Schoenheitz Pinot Blanc Val Saint Gregoire Vin d'Alsace 12% $15

A little musky and meaty on the nose in a dried herb kind of way, with bitter almond, honeycomb and slightly tropical cherimoya-like aromas.  Bright and juicy with nice citrusy and light pineapple flavors on entry, this picks us a creamy, tropical cherimoya-like quality on the mid-palate.  Easy going and well balanced, this lacks the drive and focus of the best examples on the palate and shows a little lightly, with apple and citrus flavors on the modest finish. 86 points

2009 Domaine Mittnacht Freres Pinot Blanc Terre d'Etoiles Vin d'Alsace 13.3% $18

Stony on the nose, with hints of leather and woodland spice. There's a waxy lemon/lime streak here that hints at passionfruit, all backed up with fresh balsamic tones.  On entry, there's a rush of subtle pine needles followed by light melon, pear and lime flavors. This remains rather subtle in the mouth, a slightly softer example of an Alsace Pinot Blanc with melon and pear flavors leading to the modest finish that ends with a bit of spice. Simple. 85 points

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Slideshow View

Alsatian Pinot Blancs

Hugel Alsace Pinot Blanc 'Les Armours' (2009)
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Trimbach Pinot Blanc Alsace Aoc (2009)
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Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc Alsace (2011)
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Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc (2009)
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Henri Schoenheitz Pinot Blanc Val Saint Gregoire (2010)
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Domaine Mittnacht Freres Pinot Blanc Alsace Aoc (2009)
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  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 210

    Thanks, GdP, for the Pinot Blanc/Alsace article. Timely, as we just returned from 3 days on the Route des Vins d'Alasace, a GREAT trip. We found tremendous variations in the Pinot Blancs we sampled, and now understand why--never know that these weren't 100% varietals.

    Best one we found (to our taste) was a Mittnacht-Klack Oberberg 2010 Pinot Blanc, obviously related to the Mittnacht Freres you reviewed, from Riquewihr, which showed bone-dry but rich flavors and bracing acidity. Doubt it's available in the US, but the trip was an eye-opener to the region, the innumerable small producers, and was also an incredible visit, that we'd encourage anyone to experience. Fantastic architecture, history, vineyards and food, of course.

    Mar 28, 2013 at 1:50 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 833

    I am just now starting to become interested in Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris after several decades of pursuing other wines.

    You mentioned how the same grape can have different names and how that can be confusing. Pinot Gris is similar in that it can be called Pinot Grigio, Rulander, Grauer Burgunder etc. All this just keep the consumer mystified.

    Mar 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

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