Famille Sparr Pinot Blanc Cuvee Tradition 2011
I’m here to say there’s room for more Pinot in life. If you’ll allow me, let’s set aside the two marquee Pinots – Noir and Grigio – for the moment, primarily because their quality can prove tricky unless you’re in the habit of paying more for your wine. Chances are, with Pinots that are available between $8 and $18, it’s difficult to find a true keeper because the choices are: a) watery Burgundy or burly, Syrah-spiked West Coasters; or b) mass-produced PG plonk that’s irrevocably indistinguishable.
The Pinot I’m here to evangelize is Blanc, Alsace-centric mate of Pinot Gris, the northern alter ego of Grigio, which is known for its generous, bright flavors and affinity for food. It’s a praise-worthy variety that typically overachieves in the sweet spot under 18 bucks. But that’s for another time.
In the States, Pinot Blanc is lesser known than its popular siblings (the Pinot grape clan is linked by mutations). It’s known as Pinot Bianco in Italy, where it can be found in Vin Santo, and is used in sparkling wines of California and Alsace, where it likely achieves its fullest expression.
Last year, I voiced my enthusiasm for a Pinot Blanc from Long Island. In fact, most of us at PAVC were on board with the 2011 Lieb Family effort which, by the way, is still available in Pennsylvania.
This time, I’m going to the source – Alsace.
Fans of Alsatian wines will know the name Sparr. Reportedly, the family has been making wine since the late 17th century. That dates to the reign of Louis XIV – the Sun King or Monsieur Le Roi for any Francophiles following along. Sparr bottlings I’ve experienced were well-made and affordable, marked by brisk and lively flavors. It’s a winning formula, think about it: Hundreds of years of accumulated know-how and skill, delivered to your PLCB outlet for less scratch than an Andrew Jackson.
The Famille Sparr Pinot Blanc Cuvee Tradition 2011, available in Pennsylvania for $14.99, is from the Alsatian village of Riquewihr and winemakers Pierre and Charles Sparr.
Lighter meat dishes (chicken and turkey, Easter ham or pork roast), shellfish and spicy Asian fare are right in the Cuvee Tradition’s wheelhouse. It drinks well on its own, too, if you’re in need of temporary respite from heavy winter reds. The pale golden color and generous nose yield to a semi-dry wine that blends distinct fruit with mineral qualities drawn from the Sparr vineyards’ clay, marl and limestone soils. I think of Pinot Blanc’s moderate acidity and softer edges as a less aggressive rendering of a cool climate white – especially when compared to, say, a German Riesling.
There’s complexity of flavors here; a mix of citrus, pear, apple, a touch of tropical fruit and likely others that I’m not creative enough to name. On the day after its opening, the wine’s body became more pronounced and mouth-coating, and delicious pear flavors featured prominently across the medium-length finish. Alcohol is 12.5% by volume.
If you’re new to Pinot Blanc but game for a well-priced white that’s expressive but not overdone, it might be time to expand your Pinot horizon. 88-90