Monday, December 13, 2010

White wine from Pinot Noir

Want to stump your wine geek friends? Pour them a glass of the wine at right and ask them to identify it. Tell them it's a major variety they've had many times.

I could have taken 100 guesses and would not have come up with Pinot Noir.

Adam Lee is one of our generation's great thinker/winemakers; a guy who has enough energy to make fine single-vineyard Pinot Noirs (under the Siduri label) and Syrahs from up and down the West Coast and also write a steady stream of cogent criticism in comments on the foolish writing about wine he sees on the Internet.

I say "thinker/winemaker" because this wine is an intellectual pleasure; it answers a question that people (like me) who love Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine have wondered. What if you pressed Pinot Noir quickly and took the juice from the skins fast enough to make a white wine?

In theory, you could make a white wine from any grape. But rarely do you see it done, mainly because it's not usually the best use of red grapes. I tried a white wine made from Syrah earlier this year that was interesting, but not as successful as this.

Lee uses fruit mostly from a section of an Oregon vineyard that ripens slower than its neighboring vines. The grapes are pressed whole-cluster as soon as they get to the winery. The juice is left to settle for a day, then drained into a combination of neutral oak barrels and stainless steel, where it ferments. He allows some of the batches to go through malolactic fermentation. It ages for a few months before being bottled in the spring.

If I tried this blind, my first guess would have been unoaked Chardonnay, and then I might have guessed Viognier. Lee was surprised when I told him that; he thinks it's more like Marsanne or Roussanne. I didn't find it to be quite as full-bodied as those, although making a rich white to stand up to heartier foods was one of his objectives. That said, I can't believe he had any greater objective than to have some fun making a unique wine.

What I think is most interesting is the fruit flavors: I got Asian pear and guava, which I never taste in Pinot Noir. No cherry, no cranberry, no raspberry. So do all those red fruit flavors come not from the juice, but the skins? Perhaps. It's not just a wine; it's a lesson in wine chemistry.

This is the third vintage Lee has made of this wine, so he has found a market for it; Siduri and Novy wines tend to draw the wine-geek crowd to start with. I highly recommend it for Pinot Noir fans. It's like looking at your lover's X-rays.

Novy Blanc de Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009 ($24)
The color is medium yellow with the slightest hint of orange. The aroma is delicate, with notes of guava skin, white peach, Asian pair and floral hints. It's not as delicate on the palate, with flavors of Asian pear and guava skin. Medium-bodied, with a satisfying mouthfeel; 13.9% alcohol. I don't know if this has the gravitas to be a great wine, but it's certainly a good one, even if it weren't a fascinating curiosity. 500 cases. 90 points.


Bonus link: Here's an interesting post from Jeannie Cho Lee about what she thinks Hong Kong restaurants should provide in wine service. It's not her point to tell people outside HK what the wine scene there is like, but you can get a great picture anyway. Most interesting point -- Red Bordeaux is the emperor, which is strange because Burgundy, red or white, would be a much better match with most of the food.


Kent Benson said...

This past April, while in Germany, I had my first taste of a white wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon. It was at a winery in the Pfalz, Weingut Lergenm├╝ller. Their playful and adventuresome line called, Pirats (sic) of the Palatinum. They called this one, “John Silver.” I didn’t take notes. I only remember that it was pretty awful. You gotta hand it to them for trying.

King Krak, I Drink the Wine said...

I am a long-time fan of Dirler's white pinot noir. I've had one from Italy that I've liked, too.

Anyway, it's not as rare as you think. Here's an inaccurate list of white non-sparkling pinot noirs that users of CellarTracker have in their cellar.

Do not ask me to identify it blind.

W. Blake Gray said...

Kent: I tried some Cab from the Pfalz earlier this year and I think it's just not warm enough there for the grape, yet. So maybe white Cab is the way to go?

King: Didn't get the link.

Wes Barton said...

Bonny Doon did one from Meunier about a decade ago, which I really enjoyed. Because of that, I'd have a shot at identifying one blind. The flavors of theirs had a lot in common with Veuve Clicquot, so it's just being still that would throw you off.

Tommaso said...

My comment isn't directly related to your post, but here goes. Do you know what's going on with Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc? It used to be my go to S.B. for a very reasonable price. However, I have problems finding it lately. Maybe it's a distribution issue.


tom said...


Safeway market and Bev Mo both carry the Geyser Peak.

W. Blake Gray said...

Comment drift! Though I sympathize, because that was a go-to for me for a long time. Please tell me where you live and I'll look into it.

Tommaso said...

I live in the Chicago area. Wine searcher shows 2 stores in Illinois that carry 2009 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc. For the US it show 39 entries. If I specify 2008, wine searcher shows 92 entries for the US.

As for Chardonnay, I never drink chardonnay from California. If you want a food friendly chardonnay, try one from France. French chardonnays from the Macon are delicious and not expensive.

W. Blake Gray said...

Tommaso: The Geyser Peak brand was sold twice in a short period, from Beam Wines to Constellation, and later to a new company called Ascentia Wine Estates in June 2008. Ascentia was started by a former COO from Beam Wine.

Subsequently Ascentia was sued by its sales and marketing partner, WJ Deutsch. So you can see why there's a distribution slowdown.

Whether or not the moves have affected quality, I can't say. To tell you the truth, I also used to consider Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc a go-to wine but haven't seen it in a while, and hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it. There's just so much else in the world to drink.

Re California Chardonnay: It's a big state. Try something from Mendocino County. But this is comment drift.

Kent Benson said...

I'm sure you're right about German Cabernet. On a related note, while at the VDP's Weinboerse I was amazed at the wines from Cabernet crosses that are now being produced in Germany, such as Cabernet Dorsa and Cabernet Dorio (both Dornfelder/Cab Sauv crosses) and Cabernet Cubin (Blaufrankisch/Cab Sauv cross). By the way, if you haven't yet discovered the Vitis International Variety Catalogue, check it out at It's a great German site with a searchable database of virtually every grape variety, which lists the genetic pedigree, country of origin, breeder, year of crossing, etc. Very cool!

W. Blake Gray said...

I had an outstanding Dornfelder while I was there, at Knipser. The winemaker said most German wineries disrespect the grape and make indifferent bulk reds, but I was impressed.