An uncommon style of French wine is in the midst of an international renaissance. Cooly refreshing white Pinot Noir is made from red wine grapes, much like Blanc de Noirs Champagne. Unlike those sparklers, however, white Pinot Noir is a still wine and is now being made using different methods in regions across the globe.
To make white wine from red grapes, winemakers take careful steps to ensure that there is minimum contact, or maceration, between the pre-fermented must and color-giving grape skins. To eliminate maceration for white Pinot, only a small amount of the grape’s juice can be fermented into white wine.
Free-run juice is released when grapes are piled, and their skins break under their own weight. In white winemaking, this produces the highest quality wines because there’s minimal contact with bitter skins and seeds. Free-run juice, and occasionally must from a very light pressing, are used to make Blanc de Noirs still wines.
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It is a precise process that provides a relatively meager amount of wine for the effort. As a result, these wines are uncommon and can come with elevated price tags. Savvy shoppers might consider trying bottles from areas with comparatively larger white Pinot Noir output, such as Oregon, where traditional Pinot Noir is prevalent. Or Germany, where the Pinot Noir grape is locally known as Spätburgunder.
Different winemakers make white Pinot in different ways. Some producers, such as Left Coast Cellars in Oregon and Anthony Nappa Wines on New York’s Long Island, opt for a cleaner style, fermenting their juice at cool temperatures in stainless steel. Others, like Oregon’s Domaine Serene, choose to make their wines in the style of a rich, full-bodied Chardonnay using oak barrels for fermentation and aging.
In California, rather than white Pinot Noir, the same style is labeled as Pinot Noir Blanc or Blanc de Noirs. In Germany, too, the style appears as Blanc de Noir, while in Italy, wines are labeled Pinot Nero Bianco, or “Vino Bianco Ottenuta Da Uva Nera,” the Italian translation of “Blanc de Noirs.”
*Pinot Noir is particularly well suited to the process because of the grape’s thin skin. In theory, winemakers could use any red variety to make Blanc de Noir-style still wines, but the wine may pick up some color in the process. One such wine is Vicentin’s Blanc de Malbec, which, though labeled as a white, is actually closer in color to a pale blush rosé or a vin gris.
Pinot d’Alsace is a similar style of white Pinot Noir produced in France’s Alsace region. In these wines, white varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Auxerrois are included in the blend.
Given the lack of defined style, and the general rarity of production, Blanc de Noirs has some way to go before it becomes part of the average wine drinker’s lexicon. Still, these wines are worth seeking out. White Pinot has lovely aromas typical of white wines, such as citrus fruits, apple, pear, and peaches, as well as the subtle red berry notes of many rosés.
On the palate, these wines tend to have more body and a richer mouthfeel than white wines like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, with none of the tannins of red wines.
Ready to try the rare style of wine that goes by many names? Here are a few readily available favorites.
Four White Pinot Noirs to Try
Weingut Carl Ehrhard Blanc de Noirs, Rudesheim, Germany. Avg. Price: $13
Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA. Avg. Price: $20
If you want to splurge…
Domaine Serene “Coeur Blanc”, Willamette Valley, USA. Avg Price: $90