Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Everyone knows Pinot Grigio, the northern Italian white wine beloved for its...hmmmm... That’s hard to pin down. Sometimes it seems as though Pinot Grigio is mostly beloved for its lack of presence; a sort of pleasant blandness, like iceberg lettuce or Kenny G's music.
So, given that, what happened to Pinot Bianco? Somewhere along the road to grape-variety fame, Grigio’s paler-skinned cousin wandered off into the bushes and got lost. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people making Pinot Bianco; in fact there are many of them, and the wines are often very good. And more to the point, on average they are unquestionably better than most Pinot Grigios.
Northern Italian Pinot Biancos tend to be a touch richer than their Grigio cousins, with flavors that suggest tree fruits like nectarines and white peaches, good acidity. The best come from the Alto Adige region or Friuli. Sometimes they have a scent of flowers, sometimes of beeswax, sometimes both, and for that reason they seem to suggest springtime.
The 2011 vintage is listed for the wines recommended below. Bottles from the 2012 vintage (an impressive one for northern Italian whites) will be appearing in stores soon, and should be equally good.
2011 Tiefenbrunner Alto Adige Pinot Bianco ($13)
Tiefenbrunner, a family-owned estate perched on a hillside south of Bolzano, has been making this fresh, zippy white for decades.
2011 St. Michael-Eppan Pinot Bianco Classico ($14)
Like many Alto Adige producers, St. Michael-Eppan is a cooperative, in this case of more than 350 small-scale grape growers. This fairly luscious Pinot Bianco gets its additional richness from six months aging on lees (the spent yeasts from fermentation).
2011 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco ($15)
One of the most ambitious producers in the Alto Adige region, Lageder makes good wines at every price point. This straw-colored Pinot Bianco is a great alternative to his (equally good) Pinot Grigio.
2011 Terlano Pinot Bianco ($17)
Also a cooperative - but, like St. Michael-Eppan, a very good one - Terlano makes this lightly chalky, apple-inflected white from hillside vineyards ranging from 800 to 3,000 feet in altitude.
2011 Peter Zemmer Pinot Bianco ($17)
Located in the South Tyrol (which, somewhat confusingly, is the northern part of the Alto Adige region), this family-owned estate makes a broad range of top-quality whites. Its Pinot Bianco has a distinctive citrus note, and a crisp, minerally finish.
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© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
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