When is pinot blanc not pinot blanc?

The French proclivity for precise, some would say rigid, regulations regarding their wines makes pinot blanc from Alsace an aberration. Almost all the best French wines are named not by grape name but by the village or vineyard where the grapes grow.

Alsace, the easternmost part of France bordering Germany, is an exception. There, labels of the best wines carry the name of the grape. Maybe because Alsace has been passed from Germany to France and back again repeatedly, for vinous matters, they embrace the German tradition of putting grape names on the label.

Following that logic, a pinot blanc, from the eponymous, widely planted grape in Alsace, should be analogous to a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer from that region and be made from the named grape. If only it were that simple.

Jean Trimbach, who, not surprisingly, is knowledgeable about wines from Alsace since his family has been making them there since 1626, explains that the wine, pinot blanc, need not be made exclusively, or even at all, from that grape. In Alsace, the rules for making pinot blanc are uncharacteristically flexible. The winemaker can use auxerrois, another white variety known for its lushness, as well as any of the grapes in the pinot family, such as pinot gris. They can even include juice from the black-skinned pinot noir since it, too, is a member of the pinot family and, when pressed gently, still delivers clear juice, the color emanating from the skins.

Bob Harkey, owner of the superb wine shop The Millis Package Store, and a local Alsace specialist noted that decades ago the wine we now know as pinot blanc was named, more accurately, pinot d’Alsace.

Although the Trimbach firm is justifiably known for its sensational Rieslings, the 2001 pinot blanc is equally exceptional in its own right. Jean Trimbach describes his 2001 pinot blanc succinctly as “deliciously uncomplicated.” It’s an apt description for what to me is their best pinot blanc to date and one of the best white-wine values in today’s market.

Composed of auxerrois and a number of members of the pinot family (Who cares what grapes they used?), its lovely floral aromas, unusual richness, and citric zing make it hard to resist. It’s a great aperitif after work or an informal and affordable complement to take-out rotisserie chicken.

Trimbach, 2001 pinot blanc, about $12.

December 4, 2003.