King of the Hill… With Pinot Blanc, less is more!
I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting over the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ syndrome. It started several years back as a few sommeliers quietly came out against overdone wines. Then, the tipping point came with the second most infamous onscreen wine moment when Miles critiqued a high alcohol, overdone Pinot. Now, we have achieved critical mass as an outcry against overdone wines reaches mob-like proportions with a chorus of newspaper articles exposing winemakers who have reversed course and changed their style. What’s the buzz? It would seem that less buzz is the buzz! New World winemakers are reinventing their image and reengineering their wines to have less kick.
When I read this stuff, all I want to say is: “Hey, look at us! We’ve been quietly making elegant, balanced, understated wines all along…” but no one wants to read an article about understated elegance, that’s a boring story. A winemaker in search of redemption is much more interesting.
We’ve seen it played out over and over again with different varieties during our almost thirty years in wine. First it was Chardonnay that suffered the wrath, leading to the creation of the acronym, “ABC” for “Anything But Chardonnay.” A few years later, Merlot became part of a famous movie epithet, upending its run toward red wine dominance. Then the quirky Zinfandel garnered a reputation as rocket fuel and now Pinot Noir’s elegant image is slowly tarnishing under a blanket of ethyl alcohol.
This keeps occurring because winemakers ignore balance in search of a competitive edge, often in the form of a vineyard technique or a cellar trick, that makes the wine scream, “Look at Me!” And, for a while, critics and consumers do look - until they finally question why these “good” wines hurt with excessive alcohol burn, are sweet when they should be dry, or are just plain unbalanced and don’t work with the food on the table. It is then that those same critics and consumers lash out at a whole category of wine and come looking for the opposite … something elegant. I like Pinot Blanc because it is off the radar—no one is expecting it to be the next big thing. It plugs away in obscurity, grown in places like Alsace, Nahe, Alto Adige or, in our case, Carneros, where it has earned a reputation as a superlative table wine. It is never going to be king of the hill, it doesn’t even want to be competitive. Instead of braggadocio, Pinot Blanc is happy to be clean and pure, elegant and balanced … and one of the most flexible culinary wines money can buy.
There is a reason RSV only makes it in half bottles and magnums, because it is a great way start a meal or a phenomenal wine for a party - refreshing, pure, elegant and flexible … less is more!