Author: Kristian Kielmayer, Ágnes Herczeg
A mutation of Pinot Gris that was recognised in Burgundy in the 19th century. Numerous records mention that it was often confused with Chardonnay and although their wines may have some stylistic similarities, the two varieties are not one and the same. It buds and ripens early, is relatively high-yielding, has tiny berries and loves warm soils. It was also known as Fehér Burgundi (white Burgundy) in Hungary, just as it is known as Weissburgunder or Weiss Burgunder in German-speaking countries, a word-for-word translation of the Hungarian name.
It is characterised by medium-sized leaves, densely packed clusters and thin-skinned berries. So, it is more prone to grey rot than Chardonnay, for example, which has looser clusters and is relatively tolerant of cool regions.
There are about 15,000 hectares of the variety cultivated worldwide, mainly in Italy as Pinot Bianco, where it yields light, fruity wines as a counterpart to Chardonnay and is also used in sparkling base wines. In Alsace, France, it is used to make both still and sparkling base wines. It has achieved great success in the German-speaking world, where it almost replaces Chardonnay. It is a neutral variety that shows good affinity to oak and although it does not boast full body and concentration, it is loved by both producers and consumers. It does best in warmer southern Germany, thus in the Baden and Pfalz regions. In Austria, it plays a prominent role in Styria as well as producing botrytised sweet wines in some vintages near Lake Neusiedl. The variety may also be found in blends in these countries.
Hungary has 240 hectares of Pinot Blanc. The Tolna wine district has most plantings at nearly 60 hectares while Balatonboglár has 25. It was officially authorised in 1930, but for a long time there was no ampelographic records of it in Hungarian sources.
It is closest in style to Chardonnay, but cannot entirely replicate its depth, complexity, richness and body. At the same time, it contributes fresh, fruity, green and yellow apple notes and also shows an affinity for oak ageing. It has also been dubbed the “poor man’s Chardonnay”. Its neutral character means it is also able to reflect its terroir; besides an oily texture, on volcanic soils is shows some complexity and, in some cases, can even result in ageworthy wines. In Hungary, it is generally produced as a light, fresh, fruity wine..
Pinot Blanc grape bunch and leaf
This is a neutral, versatile grape variety that is not so popular in Hungary. It can be produced in both oak-aged and light, fruity styles as well as in the form of fizz, so this also needs to be considered when serving. Pinot Blanc from cool regions with early harvests is very fresh and crisp, perfect for drinking in the warm, sunny months. This style of wine is also used to make sparkling wine. These wines pair well with soups, stewed vegetables, plain meats, salads and creamy pasta dishes. They are best enjoyed straight from the fridge at about 8-10°C in a tulip-shaped white wine glass. Serve sparkling wine a little cooler, at 6-8°C, in a flute.
High-quality, higher alcohol Pinot Blanc from warmer sites also takes well to fermentation and ageing in barrique. This results in denser, more full-bodied, richer wines with notes of toast that work well with heartier dishes like cream soups, meat loaf, grilled or fried meat and even heavily spiced dishes. Serve these wines in glasses with slightly broader bowls at about 10-12°C. These wines can also age well for a few years, further developing and integrating in bottle. They can be enjoyed all year round.