Making white Pinot Noir is like discovering America: it’s an exciting adventure and everybody wants to believe they were the first. But despite the pronouncements of a few winemakers in the New World, folks throughout Europe have been making a white wine with red Pinot Noir grapes for quite a long time, especially if you count Blanc de Noirs (white from black) wines from the Champagne region.
No, there’s nothing really new about white Pinot Noir and the process is not all that complicated. The pigment that lends color to a wine is contained in the grape skins so if you separate them out early in the winemaking process you can make a white wine with red grapes. Despite this simple formula, white Pinot Noir sightings are as rare as a mea culpa from Charlie Sheen. I’ve talked with quite a few Oregon winemakers over the past few years and almost to a person, when asked about making a white Pinot Noir or a white Pinot Meunier, they said something along the lines of “who would buy it?”
That’s a shame really because a well made white Pinot Noir can be as interesting and seductive as it is perplexing. If you are adventurous enough to try the yin to your more traditional red Pinot Noir yang, there are two wines available in the Portland area that are worth seeking out. These two talented young winemakers from opposite sides of the planet were crazy enough to make a white Pinot Noir, the least we can do is check out their work!
2008 Anne Amie Prismé Pinot Noir Blanc (14.1% alcohol)
According to winemaker Thomas Houseman, if you happen to be at the winery when the Prismé is being made you might just think you have walked into an old black and white episode of the Keystone Kops. That’s because the minute those Pommard clone grapes are brought into the winery from four different Willamette Valley vineyards there is a mad scramble to quickly get as many people as they can round up to whole cluster press the fruit by hand for about five minutes in a giant bladder. That’s right, they squeeze the grapes by hand, liberating the free run juice from the grape skins while leaving the color and tannins behind. The juice is then fermented in French oak barrels, lees stirred, allowed to go through full malolactic fermentation and then aged on its lees for 18 months before bottling. The result of all this frenetic activity is one of the more interesting Oregon wines I’ve had in recent memory.
The first thing that will strike you is the Prismé’s beautiful copper-flecked golden color. But that will only hold your attention for a brief moment once those exotic aromas waft up out of the glass and smack you right in your olfactory system. Sticking your nose in a glass of Prismé is like being Mae Clarke in The Public Enemy, except Jimmy Cagney is smashing a really ripe white peach into your face instead of half a grapefruit. After the peach blitzkrieg is over, you are left to try and figure out when was the last time you smelled honey, beeswax, apricots and Bosc pears in a glass of Pinot Noir.
Once you actually taste the Prismé you may need to find room for your tongue. This wine is so rich and creamy the white peach and red raspberry fruit flavors feel like they are surfing a plush wave all over your mouth. Somewhere in that big wave there are notes of cardamom, wet rocks and a kind of fruity-buttery quality that may remind you of a warm croissant slathered with quince paste. But don’t worry, there’s more than enough structure and acidity here to balance out all that fruit. In fact, the Prismé has a surprising amount of structure and grip for a wine that was in contact with the skins for about as long as David Letterman hosted the Oscars.
The first time I tried this wine it really made me sit there for a bit and think. Is it a white wine because of the color or is it a red wine because of how it feels and tastes once you take a sip? Eyes open: white. Eyes closed: red. After you finish wrestling with the nature of this deconstructed Pinot Noir I suggest you host a blind tasting and use the Prismé to baffle and annoy your wine geek friends. The folks up at Anne Amie suggest you serve this wine with Dungeness crab, seared scallops or poached lobster done in a truffle cream sauce. Me? I quaffed the Prismé with a piece of Pine Street Biscuit’s buttermilk batter fried chicken along with one of their biscuits dripping with honey and I was pretty content.
The 2008 Anne Amie Prismé Pinot Noir Blanc is distributed in Portland by Domaine Selections and may be found for sale at the winery and at several retailers throughout Portland and the Willamette Valley. It sells for approximately 45.00 to 54.00 a bottle depending on where you shop.
2008 Gutzler Blanc de Noir Trocken (12.5% alcohol)
This wine is made by Gerhard Gutzler one of Germany’s top young winemakers. His family’s estate is located near Gundheim in the southern part of Rheinhessen and Gutzler owns parcels in some of Rheinhessen’s best-known vineyards, among them the Liebfrauenstift-Kirchenstück in Worms, the Morstein in Westhofen and the Ölberg in Nierstein. And while the Gutzler Estate is widely regarded a top producer of Riesling, Gerhard has been making a name for himself of late as a bit of a wizard with red Pinot Noir. So when I found he also made a small amount of white Pinot Noir I was more than interested!
Let’s just say when I finally tracked this wine down I was not disappointed. It might be white and it might be Pinot Noir but this wine is the complete opposite of the Anne Amie Prismé. While the Anne Amie take on white Pinot Noir is pure hedonism, the Gutzler Blanc de Noir is a monk in a small room with a cot and a vow. It is as brisk and austere a white wine drinking experience as you could possibly hope for.
When you pour this wine into a glass you will have no clue that you are about to drink Pinot Noir. The color of Gutzler Blanc de Noir is as transparent as a Radio Shack clerk trying to get you to buy the extended warranty. Then you sniff the glass and you are confronted with a grassy nose that will remind you of a very nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is totally baffling stuff at this point. A few swirls of the glass and a little warming in the hand conjures up aromas like golden raspberries, talc, Meyer lemons and dusty, dried rose petals.
On the palate this wine can only be described as “bracing.” The first sip is so jolting in terms of zippy acidity it could bring Nicolas Cage’s career back to life. And while there is the kind of crisp lemon-lime citrus and melon fruit flavor you might expect with a wine like this, there is something very red lurking in the background. Is it cranberry? Is it red raspberry? Is it tart red cherry? I drank a half a bottle of this wine while preparing this note (can’t you tell?) and I still couldn’t nail it down.
While the Anne Amie Prismé made me think, this wine made me want to find a blanket and a baguette, along with some fresh goat cheese and the nearest warm beach. The 2008 Gutzler Blanc de Noir Trocken sells for approximately 18.00 to 20.00 and is distributed by Vinum Wine Importing in both Seattle and Portland.