Pinot Blanc is maybe the best wine you’ve never tasted. Especially the beauties from Oregon, which come on all bright and fruity and then stop just at the brink of going sweet. The varietal’s acidic edge wakes up your tongue, causes eyes to widen and a thought bubble to form: “Hello, gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?”
This under-appreciated, cool weather grape that’s beloved in Alsace, France, remains stubbornly obscure in the United States. While Pinot Gris raced to the top of summer’s greatest hits list, Pinot Blanc is like the classic Cinderella story. Oh, its day will come. It’s just too good not to get the recognition it deserves.
So, let’s just play Prince Charming and call it: Pinot Blanc is the white wine you need to drink when the temps start soaring.
Still not convinced? I was a PB skeptic, too, until a recent trip to the Willamette Valley. While sitting in the new-ish, incredibly beautiful tasting room at Sokol Blosser, drinking in the stunning views of the Dundee Hills, I waved off the offer for a taste of Pinot Blanc. My mission was to sip and swish and spit some of those spectacular Pinot Noir single vineyard wines that are the rightly famous signatures from this heritage producer. Whites weren’t really on my radar.
“Well, you should really try this,” the man behind the counter cajoled. So I did. And wow — game changer.
Had I tasted it blind, I’m not sure if I would have been able to name the varietal. It had the sass of a well-made Chenin Blanc, and the elegance of a Chardonnay. Sipped again alongside the carefully curated charcuterie board, it almost drank like a red. Moving through a flight of impressive Pinot Noir, I kept returning to the PB, thinking, this is so… different. Since then, I’ve become totally obsessed.
Unfortunately, that’s a hard itch to scratch in Seattle, where I live, and much of the Pacific Northwest. I went on the hunt for Pinot Blanc at a local market here, only to be told they carry just an Italian version. Tried it, but didn’t like it as well as the wine that had set the high bar at Sokol Blosser.
I finally hit pay dirt on the Seattle waterfront at Elliott’s Oyster House, where a lovely Pinot Blanc from Foris Vineyards was poured by the glass. Sipped while slurping a dozen fat, briny Kusshi oysters, I felt like this winning combo was primed for a tourism photo shoot on what qualifies as an essential Northwest experience. The perfect match. Tom Arthur — director of operations for E3 Restaurant Group, who helps put together the waterfront restaurant’s Northwest-centric list — says he’s been a big fan of Pinot Blanc for years. “I keep waiting for it to catch on,” he says.
That trend is coming, promise.
Maybe the most convincing reason you need to get some Pinot Blanc in your summer rotation is that it’s amazing with all sorts of food, especially warm weather-inspired dishes like flame-kissed meats and seasonal seafood. Grilled halibut plus Pinot Blanc equals bliss.
When I later procured bottles from a laundry list of Oregon Pinot Blanc producers, I challenged this versatile white wine to stumble by throwing it together with the likes of spicy Thai shrimp curry, fiery refried lentil tacos, Jerk chicken, even grilled steak. And it stood up to the most assertive seasonings. High fives, and fist bumps, Pinot Blanc! Your pairing game is strong.
Also, its fine attributes also don’t disappear when seriously chilled. On a recent trip exploring the hot springs of British Columbia, I actually stuck a bottle in a snowbank. It was magnificent.
After tasting through a whole bunch of Oregon Pinot Blanc, here are my current faves working seeking out (which are available online):
Sokol Blosser 2016, Dundee Hills | $22
Like your grandma’s fried chicken, you’ll taste the love that goes into making this wine. From the whole cluster, gentle press at harvest and a ferment in stainless steel before being tucked into neutral oak barrels, the result is a golden-hued gem that might remind you of a juicy nectarine.
Winderlea 2016 Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, McMinnville | $30
Made from estate fruit, this sophisticated sipper plays up the natural minerality of the variety with a short stay in a traditional clay amphora.
Anne Amie Vineyards 2015 Estate, Willamette Valley | $20
Layered and complex, this stunner develops its velvety mouthfeel by spending 10 months on the lees in French oak. But don’t assume it’s a butter bomb because crisp fruit character comes through loud and clear. Pour this for a red wine snob and you could certainly convert them. (Then again, why are you hanging out with a snob?)
Airlie 2016 Estate, Willamette Valley | $20
Yet another example that TLC makes this varietal into something extra special. Hand-harvested — which is more the rule than the exception around this grape — and pressed ever-so-tenderly to minimize any distracting phenolics, you might notice a tropical fruit quality when sticking your nose in the glass and inhaling. And you should do that before your first outstanding sip.
Ayres Vineyard & Winery 2017, Willamette Valley | $22
I absolutely adore and agree with the official tasting notes: “This wine screams sunshine!” Aged exclusively in stainless steel, the bright, playful citrus flavors also make so much sense at that crab boil on the beach. Who needs lemon when you’re pouring this and going nuts for the sweet crustecean?
Winter’s Hill 2016 Reserve, Dundee Hills | $29
The label says Oregon, but this drinks like it just got off the boat from Burgundy. It is fermented and aged in French oak, but that process doesn’t knock out the fab fruit. Bet it’s going to be even better with a few years of aging, but it’s also pretty tough to resist drinking it right now.
Brooks Wine 2017, Willamette Valley | $18
When you’re patient and wait for that firm pear to ripen, and you take that first bite and the juice drips down your chin, that’s the kind of life-affirming experience this wine evokes. Like that juicy fruit, the PB from Brooks is so memorable because it’s got that kick at the end that keeps you coming back for more.
More to fill your summer PB basket:
Elk Cove 2017 Estate, Willamette Valley | $19
Patton Valley Vineyard 2015 Mora Brothers Vineyard, Willamette Valley | $20
Bryn Mawr Vineyards 2016 David’s Block, Eola-Amity Hills | $26
Willamette Valley Vineyards 2015, Willamette Valley | $24
Apolloni Vineyards 2016 Estate, Willamette Valley | $16
Van Duzer Vineyards 2016, Willamette Valley | $25
Erath Winery 2015, Oregon | $15
The Eyrie Vineyards 2015, Dundee Hills | $23
See? I’m obsessed. No regrets. Maybe you should get on board the Pinot Blanc train, pour yourself a glass on a warm evening and let me know if you agree.