Meet the Pinots
The most well-known family in the pantheon of wine grapes is the pinot family. Named for the pine cone-like appearance of it’s grape clusters, the pinot dynasty stretches back millennia and is believed to be one of the most ancient grapes on record. Like any family, they’re a diverse and colorful bunch. Allow me to introduce you.
Pinot noir is the patriarch who reigns from the Burgundy region in eastern France where he has been the undisputed king of red since gamay was kicked out in the late 14th century. He also contributes to the bubbles of the Champagne region. A world traveler, he goes by pinot nero in Italy and spatburgunder in Germany, but he uses his French name in Oregon and California where he’s redefined himself as a fuller fruitier kind of guy than his European self. Mr. Noir is easy to get along with since he’s low on tannin, but in cooler climates his acidity rises making him more of a foodie.
Pinot blanc is a stately matriarch who was first observed in Burgundy but has since found her French home in Alsace where she is vinified as a still or sparkling wine. As a still wine pinot blanc is full bodied, high in acidity, and brings aromas of flowers and peaches. As a sparkler, she’s called Cremant d’Alsace which is a refreshing and affordable dry apperitivo. Italians call her pinot bianco where the best examples are grown in the northern Alto Adige region. Here, pinot bianco is best vinified in stainless steel so her dainty characteristics can shine.
Pinot gris is the eldest daughter of the family and is bit of an over-achiever. Captain of the Italian white wine cheerleading squad, little miss grigio has become the most popular mutation of pinot noir. Gris and grigio mean grey, referring to the grey-ish blue to dull pink color of the grapes. The wine can be rose if the juice is allowed contact with the grape skins during winemaking, but mostly it is made white. Like any over-achiever, mass production can cause a dilution in quality and unfortunately an anti-pinot grigio backlash contingent would compare her flavor to water. But when produced well and in smaller quantities, pinot grigio can be a bright, lively and richly aromatic dry wine with moderate acidity and tropical fruitiness.
Pinot meunier is the brooding younger brother who often likes to drop the pinot part of his name. Dressed all in black, this grape sports a downy peach-fuzz on his leaves making him easy to identify. He grows in the Champagne region of France and is blended with chardonnay and pinot noir to lend fruitiness to the worlds most famous sparklers. While Meunier accounts for 40% of the regions’ plantings, few Champagne houses claim to rely heavily on this grape in their blend with the notable exception of Krug. As a stand alone made into a still red wine, Meunier is a bit jammy and low on tannins.