04/10/12 – March Craziness week #2 (Pinot G. vs. Pinot B.)

By Jesse on April 8, 2012

For the fifth non-consecutive year, the Young Winos of LA are proud to host our almost-annual March blind tasting tournament. Billed as “March Madness” in its 2007, 2009 and 2010 incarnations, the tournament at one point included six weeks of variety-by-variety blind tasting (Sauvignon Blanc one week, Syrah the next, etc.), followed by a two-week “championship” series of multi-variety blind white tasting followed by blind red tasting. This year, to allow for our increasingly busy schedules and the demands of our non-wine commitments, the proceedings won’t be as lengthy and regimented as years past. In what we’re calling our first-ever “March Craziness” tournament, we’re basically just running a semi-random series of blind tastings that features pairings or groupings of similar and/or frequently-confused wines.

Two weeks ago we did “Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot,” and the results were unsurprisingly mixed — those two varietals are really difficult to tell apart sometimes. This week, we’re moving on to another side-by-side comparison that might present even our most astute tasters with a challenge: Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio) vs. Pinot Blanc. Given that both varieties are mutations of the red Pinot Noir grape, and that both are sometimes grown in the same wine regions, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc might sound problematically similar. However, there are several key differences that might help us navigate these perilous blind tasting waters.

Pinot Gris, which goes by the name Pinot Grigio when paired with pasta or sunshine (i.e. Italy or California), is typically the leaner and spicier of the two — although how lean and how spicy depends very much on where it’s made. In France’s Alsace region, the best of the Pinot Gris are peppery, floral, and mineral-driven. These traits, plus a bit more fruit, characterize the Pinot Gris offerings from Oregon, a region which has earned a well-deserved reputation for producing excellent Pinot Gris over the past couple of decades. In Italy, the Pinot Grigio tends to be light, crisp and tangy, a style that’s replicated (again, with more fruit) in Pinot Grigio made in California. (If you encounter a California example that calls itself “Pinot Gris,” that may be an indication that the winemaker is aspiring to the Alsatian or Oregonian style.)

Pinot Blanc, meanwhile, is a bit more unctuous. Its ancestral homeland is also France’s Alsace region, and that’s still where the most celebrated bottles are made. In what’s a bit of a crude oversimplification, you can think of Pinot Blanc as the Chardonnay of Alsace: a little more full-bodied, a little more fruit-driven than its lean, mean cousin Pinot Gris. If you’re someone who tends to favor a softer, creamier white wine, but one that still has some mineral and some acidity, Pinot Blanc might be an inspired choice. Besides Alsace, Pinot Blanc is produced in California, Italy (where it’s called Pinot Bianco) and Austria (where it’s called Weissburgunder).

To participate in this week’s tasting: please bring any bottle of Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio) from anywhere in the world. If you’re able, bring it in a brown bag or other opaque container so that no one sees your bottle ahead of time. As always, feel free to bring a $10 no-bottle donation instead.

Tuesday night’s meeting will be held at Adra’s place, and spots will be assigned on a first-come-first-poured basis. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address. Once you’ve received your confirmation, go find an interesting bottle of Pinot B or G — or, as always, simply bring ten dollars. See you on Tuesday at 8pm.