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White Wine Grapes - Part 2

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Part 4 in the Series

Pinot blanc is a genetic mutation or clone of pinot gris, which is in turn, a clone of pinot noir. The leaf structure, clusters and berries so resemble Chardonnay that there are many vineyards in Europe where plantings of the two grapes are intermingled. This may have led to some confusion and mis-naming of grapes as "pinot chardonnay" (chardonnay is decidedly not of the pinot family).

Pinot blanc berry skins have an unusually high tannin content and the wines are prone to browning.

Pinot blanc is allowed in both the Mâconnais and wine labeled "Bourgogne Blanc", but plantings are nearly phased out of the Burgundy appellation. There are still many pinot blanc vineyards in Alsace, where the variety sometimes is called Klevner.

Pinot Blanc cluster photo.Plantings are extensive in Italy, where the grape is known as pinot bianco. Many vintners there make relatively neutral-tasting, crisp, high-acid versions intended for early consumption. Due to its low aroma and high acid, high production clones of pinot blanc are also used for blending with muscat in Spumante.

There are vineyards in both Germany and Austria, where pinot blanc may be called Weissburgunder and is even made into a trockenbeerenauslese version. There is also much pinot blanc planted in Eastern Europe.

A considerable amount of pinot blanc is planted in Uruguay and Argentina. Most of the 1,000 or so acres of pinot blanc in California are planted in Monterey County.

Aroma in pinot blanc is very light, non-distinct, nearly neutral. It is balanced with high acid and can be full-bodied. California winemakers frequently get fairly good results by applying the same techniques as they might to Chardonnay, barrel fermentation, lees stirring, full malolactic, etc.

Pinot gris (or pinot grigio, as it is known in Italy) probably is the best-known "white" variant-clone of Pinot Noir. Ripe pinot gris grapes may be described as having colors from bluish grey to light pinkish brown. Clusters with a variety of colors are not unusual.

The variety can attain a very high level of sweetness, but will begin to lose acid rapidly when near to fully ripe. Sometimes it is used to add richness and to lighten, when blended with Pinot Noir.

Some pinot gris is grown in Burgundy, where it may be called pinot beurot. Where planted in Germany, it is known as ruländer. It is of little commercial significance in either locale. Friuli, in Italy, produces the largest quantity, but only two appellations have Pinot Gris stars in the wine quality galaxy: Alsace, France, the traditional base of Pinot Gris appreciation and Oregon, the newest Pinot Gris area to come to light.

In Alsace, the pinot gris grape is called tokay d'Alsace (no relation to the Hungarian Tokay). The Alsatians value it as a full-bodied wine that can stand up to food without introducing any flavors of its own. In Italy, Pinot Grigio can be quite distinguished, coming from some producers, especially in the Friuli region, who devote attention to growing and vinifying. Unfortunately for its reputation, there are many other Italian Pinot Grigio makers that overcrop and harvest early to produce crisp, but vapid wines.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio is usually delicately fragrant and mildly floral with lightly lemon-citrus flavors. Depending upon ripeness at harvest and vinification technique, Pinot Gris can be tangy and light, or quite rich, round and full bodied. Made in an appropriate style, it is one dry white wine that may even age well.

The Riesling is considered on of the 'noble' grape varieties for wine making.  It can produce wines of high acidity and elegance in very cool growing conditions.  Its wines usually show fresh fruit flavors and a zesty character.  Riesling has the ability to produce wines that run the gamut from bone dry to very sweet but are usually made in dry of semi-dry styles.  It has perfumey aromas with peach and honeysuckle notes and can develop a 'petrol' nose as it ages.

Riesling does best in cool climates and is very resistant to frost.  It is planted very widely in the northern European growing regions but is less popular in other areas of the world.

In the right circumstances, some of the finest sweet wines in the world can be made from Riesling that has been affected by Botrytis Cinerea.  This mold attacks the skin of the grape and concentrates the sugars in the grape by allowing the water to evaporate.  This is especially true in the Moselle and Rhine river valleys of Germany as well as the Alsace region of FranceThese wines are at the same time:  wonderful, rare, expensive and long-lived.


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