Pinot is an old grape that is more than 2,000 years old, yet the origin of the name is unclear. It may be because the clusters resemble a pinecone or it may be named after a place in France, Pignols, where the first cutting came from. But regardless, Pinot is the parent and grandparent to as many as 21 offspring, including Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté, Auxerrois and Melon de Bourgogne.
When I am talking about Pinot, I am not talking specifically about Pinot Noir. I am also talking about Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc. These varieties all have identical DNA, yet they are mutations. The inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype, but the outer layer is made up of a distinctive genotype.
One may think of Riesling when talking about German wine, but Pinot has also been in Germany for a long time. The Pinot grape was first brought to Baden from Burgundy in 884 AD by Emperor Charles III (aka Charles the Fat). And in Germany, the Pinot trio of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) can be found. I had the pleasure to enjoy four German Pinots this week as Wines of Germany hosted a series of “Wine From Home” events.
Also known as: Weissburgunder (Germany), Pinot Bianco (Italy), Klevener (Alsace)
Pinot Blanc is planted in Alsace, France where it is typically blended with Auxerrois. And in the 1980s, Pinot Blanc grew in popularity in certain regions, such as north-eastern Italy. But Germany has grown to be the largest producer of Pinot Blanc in the world. Today there are 5,747 hectares planted.
Selbach-Oster 2018 Pinot Blanc, Mosel ($20) — Selbach-Oster is a classic, traditional producer founded in the mid-1800s but with a family heritage dating back to 1660. It is in the Mosel, one of Germany’s most renowned regions. The Mosel is a windy tributary of the Rhine River and the vines are planted on very steep slopes.
Selbach-Oster is primarily a Riesling producer, but there is a small amount of Pinot Blanc planted. The grapes are sourced from the Himmelreich Vineyard, which consists of slate soils. The whole clusters are gently pressed and undergo natural fermentation in large fuder barrels. The wine has floral, apple and mineral notes and is crisp and refreshing with a soft mid-palate and medium acidity. This is a wine to enjoy with shellfish, cured meats or mild cheese.
Also known as: Grauburgunder, Grauer Burgunder, Rülander, Grauklevner (Germany), Pinot Gris (France), Pinot Grigio (Italy)
Pinot Gris is named for the gray skin color of the grape (“gris” means “gray.” Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Gris, after Italy and the United States.
Weingut Friedrich Becker 2018 Pinot Gris Estate Dry, Pfalz ($23) — The Becker family estate is in the southern part of the Pfalz, on the border of Alsace. Pfalz is the second largest wine region in Germany and consists of a multitude of soil-types. The Becker family is considered one of the top Pinot Noir producers of Germany and primarily produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
The Pinot Gris is biodynamically farmed. The grapes are macerated for 12-18 hours and the wine spends five months on the lees in stainless steel tanks and large wooden barrels. The wine is a pale copper color with notes of citrus, apples, strawberries, and muted tropical fruits. On the palate, the wine is juicy and tart with a full mouthfeel and a long lingering finish. It has enough texture and body to enjoy with meat.
Also known as: Spätburgunder, Blauburgunder, Blauer Klevner (Germany)
Today, Germany has the third most plantings of Pinot Noir in the world, after France and the United States. And Pinot Noir is a difficult grape. It is thin-skinned, early budding, early-ripening, susceptible to fungal diseases, leaf roll virus and rot, and is prone to mutation. But despite is challenges, it is a beloved grape.
Ökonomierat Rebholz 2019 Pinot Noir Rosé, Pfalz ($20) — The Rebholz family has been in Pfalz since 1632 and is a pioneer in organic and natural winemaking. They were certified organic in 2005 and began practicing biodynamics in 2006. The wine has a cheerful nose with sweet notes of strawberry, sour cherry, and tart cranberry. On the palate it is dry, fresh, and lean with mineral notes and beautiful bright acidity. This is a wine to enjoy with a variety of foods.
Schmitt 2016 Pinot Noir, Rheinhessen ($19) — The Schmitt winery was founded more than 235 years ago as part of a farm that also cultivated cereals and sugar beets. They are in the southern part of the Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest region and one of the warmest and driest regions. The winery was certified organic in 2007 and Demeter Biodynamic certified in 2012. They are one of only 75 properties in Germany to hold the Demeter certification.
Sourced from limestone soils, the grapes spend three weeks on the skins in stainless steel; then 15 percent is placed in used oak barrels and 86 percent is placed in stainless steel for aging. The aromatics of this wine jump out of the glass. The wine has savory and herbal aromas with notes of dusty red berry, dry shitake mushroom and celery seed. On the palate, the wine is savory with bright acidity on the palate and salinity on the long finish. This is a wine to enjoy with salmon or pork tenderloin.
The connection between Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris is not just that they have the same DNA but they also all have great acidity and are wines meant to be enjoyed with all types of food.
Watch now: Wine tasting with Allison Levine