a Trio of Pinot Offspring

Over the years, the Pinot Noir grape variety has garnered quite a reputation and following in Burgundy, France, and is now booming with much success in both California and Oregon as well.  What most wine lovers do not know, is that Pinot Noir is also the patriarch to a family of other Pinot grape varieties—two of which, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, can often offer exceptional value.

Take the 2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris blend, for instance.   Owner/winemaker Jim Clendenen has made quite an international name for himself and his Burgundian styled Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.   He is one of those winemakers, interestingly, who believe that the grand white Burgundies of old were not produced solely from the Chardonnay grape variety, but included other Pinot Noir off spring, such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot and Pinot Blanc.  In homage of this thought, Clendenen produces this unique blend Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris as a separate bottling. At roughly $20 a bottle retail, this very elegant, highly refined, minerally Chardonnay taste-a-like REALLY over delivers for dollar.

Interestingly, Clendenen also blends these two grape varieties with another distant cousin variety, Aligote, to produce a vanguard Reserve level bottling named Hildegard (roughly $48 a bottle). We recently tasted the 1999 and 2003 and walked away totally wow-ed and impressed. They both were closer to a top echelon white Burgundy in quality, minerality and style. The emperor of Burgundy, back in its glory days, was Charlemagne. Hildegard was his wife, who Clendenen named this cuvee after as a homage to the glorious, aristocratic white Burgundies of old.

Another standout well worth checking out is the Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco (roughly $22 a bottle) from the steep, rocky hills of northeast Italy. This wine is brisk, riveting and full of lip-smacking minerality and refreshing acidity.  Furthermore, unlike many of the other wines from this area which are more fruit driven and much simpler, the Terlan Pinot Bianco has true character, virility & hutzpah. Because it also quite remarkably light in body, this wine can work with a surprisingly wide array of foods.

In 2007, Cheryle and I tasted a very unique white wine, while visiting Burgundy and the house of Lucien Boillot. The wine’s label simply read—“Les Grands Poisots” and was produced from the Pinot Beurot grape variety, which is another Pinot Noir offspring.   I was astounded to smell and taste such a cornucopia of cherry like essences from cough drops to sour cherry, to ripe red cherry; nuances I normally associate with a red grape like Pinot Noir. From this, I walked away with a clearer understanding of the connection between Pinot Noir and its offspring.

As a side note, I was then somewhat taken back, when I re-tasted the wine after it actually arrived here in the Islands, as the wine now tasted not of cherries as I remembered but instead much more about minerality  from the limestone rich soils the vines grow in.   Yes, the French have a skill of showing the “sense of place” through their wines. I had heard that a few cases of a more current vintage has arrived here in Hawaii.   At roughly $29 a bottle, this is a wine worth checking out, not only because of its uniqueness, but more about how elegant, refined and interesting it is.

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