What is White Pinot Noir?

The Pinot Noir grape is a red grape most famously known for the production of red Burgundy. And today's new world Pinot Noir wines, especially from California and Oregon, are wonderfully delicate light bodied red wines with flavors of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and black plum.  But did you know that there is a white Pinot Noir? And what, might you ask, is white Pinot Noir? 

Let's first take one step back. The juice from a red grape and a white grape is nearly clear.  It's the process of making red wine, in which the grape skins are left in contact with the juice as it ferments, that colors it red. So, quite simply, white Pinot Noir is wine made from the juice of the Pinot Noir grape, but the juice is immediately removed from the grape skins before fermentation. So you end up with a white wine.

Now you're probably wondering if it's anything like that other white wine (rosé) made from a red grape, white Zinfandel.  Well, sort of, but not exactly.  White Zinfandel became wildly popular mostly because of its high residual sugar. It's somewhat sweet.  But most of the white Pinot Noir being produced is dry, having little or no residual sugar. And while white Zinfandel is actually pink in color (a rosé), white Pinot Noir ranges in color from pale yellow, similar to Chardonnay, to a deep golden hue.  Typically white Pinot Noir is not aged in oak barrels so you get a lot of the bright crisp fruit flavors of pear, with hints of lemon, orange and honey.  An oaked white Pinot Noir will take on the rich flavors of baked apple or baked pear.

Before you write-off white Pinot Noir as a gimmick or just the latest trend, realize that Pinot Noir is one of the primary grapes used to make Champagne, along with Pinot Muenier (another red grape) and Chardonnay.  So white Pinot Noir has a very long and illustrious history. You might have heard of white Pinot Noir as Blanc de Noir in France or Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.

Bottles of white Pinot Noir are a bit difficult to find but if you happen to see one, or have the opportunity to try a glass, by all means do. Cheers!


What is Red Burgundy?

Previously I covered the most widely known white Burgundy (Bourgogne Blanc) from Chablis. We learned that wines from Chablis are produced from the Chardonnay grape.

The other most notable wines from Burgundy are red wines (Bourgogne Rouge). And, the most widely produced red wine in France's Burgundy region is Pinot Noir.  French wine labels generally only identify the region where the wine is produced and not the grape varietal used to produce it. So you just have to remember that if you are looking for a French Pinot Noir, a Burgundy is what you are looking for.

Burgundy is the original home of Pinot Noir with records of its existence dating back to the 1300's.  And like most French wines, they are highly regulated. There are several levels of classification in Burgundy:

  • Grand Cru
    • These account for just over 1% of Burgundy's production from just 33 vineyards. And because of this, they go for top dollar. These wines are described as being bold, complex and worthy of aging.
  • Premier Cru (or 1er Cru)
    • These 635 vineyards, representing approximately 10% of Burgundy's production, may be located directly adjacent to Grand Cru vineyards, but are certainly more affordable.
  • Villages Wines
    • These wines are named for the town where are grapes are grown and represent 44 AOCs, or a bit over a third of Burgundy's production. These wines are fresh and fruity.
  • Regional Wines
    • These wines are made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and may be labeled as "Burgogne Rouge" which is literally red Burgundy.  These regional wines, from 23 AOCs, account for approximately 50% of Burgundy's production.

Red Burgundy from France has been compared more with the Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley due to their bigger and bolder flavor of cranberry with notable earthiness versus Pinot Noir from the Central Coast of California (e.g., Sonoma and Russian River) that tends to have more strawberry, raspberry and cola flavors. 

While Pinot Noir is the most notable red wine produced in Burgundy, there is another red wine produced in Burgundy. You may have heard of it. It comes from the region of Beaujolais. It's produced from the Gamay grape and is usually known as Gamay Beaujolais.

While the Beaujolais Nouveau is widely popular, it is bottled immediately after harvest, is complete and arrives on store shelves within about two months of being picked.  The more sophisticated and aged Gamay Beaujolais will also offer a juicy, fruity scent, but they deliver a smooth texture with a bit of “earthiness” in the taste.  Because Gamay Beaujolais wine is produced at a much higher volume than the Pinot Noir, it is much less expensive, making it a great value for a nice French wine.

So if you are looking for a red wine with medium body, check out a Burgundy. Both the Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and Beaujolais (Gamay) are unlike any other wines produced in the world. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Louis Jadot Burgundy ($17)

This Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is widely available and moderately priced. A great medium bodied wine with flavors of raspberries and a bit of earthiness. This wine goes great with most foods.  Louis Jadot is one of the few French winemakers that, for American's benefit, also identify on the label that this Bourgogne is a Pinot Noir.

What is Chablis?

There was a time when ordering a glass of Chablis meant that you wanted a glass of white wine. No specific wine, just a white wine. But there is so much more to Chablis than just a white wine.

Chablis is a region located in the northwest corner of the province of Burgundy in France.  It produces light, dry white wines known for their minerality and crisp acidity. And all white wines produced in Chablis are made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape.  They tend to be dry and fresh in flavor with distinct minerality. Chablis is usually un-oaked to retain its bright, crisp flavors. A few Chablis producers do use oak barrels in their wine making but these are restricted to the higher-quality wines and does not lead to overpowering oak flavors.

The vineyards of Chablis are classified into four tiers of quality, all precisely regulated by the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), and noted on the bottles' label:

  • Chablis Grand Cru AOC- Highest quality wines from seven vineyards on one slope
    • Only region where some oak aging is done. These wines have flavors of passion fruit, apricot, apple and orange rind.
  • Chablis Premier Cru AOC - Seventy vineyards in some of the better locations
    • The limestone soils produce richer fruit with flavors of lemon, starfruit and flint minerality
  • Chablis AOC - Comprised of the vineyards mostly closer in to the town of Chablis
    • These wines have nice flavors of citrus, pear and minerals
  • Petit Chablis AOC - Vineyard areas in the outer areas from the town of Chablis
    • These tend to have higher acidity, tart citrus flavors, and are best enjoyed young

So when shopping for white wines from France, remember that a white Burgundy from Chablis is a Chardonnay. And, don't just order a glass of white wine, order a French Chablis and enjoy some of the finest white wine the world has to offer.

Next time I'll discuss the other famous wine from Burgundy, the red one. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Jacques Bourguignon Chablis ($13)

It's Chardonnay, but if you've become accustomed to California Chardonnays, this is a different wine.  It's a lot more subtle in its flavors, a bit tart and has definite hints of minerality.  Give a French Burgundy from Chablis a try!