(This is a long-form post. The average reader should be able to read and digest this post in less than 8 minutes. Should you choose, it could be read in two installments – the overview in less than 3 minutes and the specific wine profiles in less than 5 minutes. Please enjoy reading about white pinot noir.)
Red, rosé, and orange wines get their colors when the pressed grape juice soaks with the grape skins. The color pigments release into the juice. The longer this occurs, the darker the color. But what happens if you press the juice ever so lightly and do not allow skin contact?
I am glad you asked; you get white wine. This is not new. White wines from red grapes have been made throughout history, often in places that only grow red grapes. This post is about something old becoming new again – White Pinot Noir.
Side Note: To avoid any confusion, the image below shows ripe grapes from each of the main three Pinot grape varieties. Today, the wines I am sharing with you are only made from the Pinot Noir grape (far left image). Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio are mutations from Pinot Noir but are different grapes making different wines.
The Brief History of White Pinot Noir
Making white wine with red, black, or blue-skinned grapes has been done since the ancients first made wine. The reddish-copper to the bluish-gray grape of Pinot Grigio/Gris is an example of white wine that is still made today. This is pure conjecture, but I would guess that when wine was first stumbled upon, the grape skins were not removed, which then colored the wine. It would seem to me that through experimentation, the ancients learned that they could make wine with and without skin contact.
But when looking at White Pinot Noir specifically in modern times, there is little record that I could find via the internet. I did find this…
According to an article I read in The Oregonian:
- A bottle of 1971 Humbug Winery White Pinot Noir is on display in the Douglas County Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Roseburg, Oregon. (it was not commercially available in 1971, but it was bottled)
- The first commercially available vintage of White Pinot Noir is 1978. It appears that Tualatin Estate Vineyards, as well as Humbug Winery, share this first.
- White Pinot was made during the 1970s when there was a severe shortage of white wine grapes in California.
- A wet, cold 1984 vintage led many Willamette Valley winemakers to use their under-ripe fruit to make White Pinot.
I believe that 2020 could be a record year for White Pinot Noir because of the wildfires that ravaged wine regions in Oregon and California. Why? Because the fires started before harvest. The grape skins absorb the smoke from the fires, not the juice. So when one can not make a traditional red Pinot Noir because of smoke taint, there is still an opportunity to make a White Pinot (or perhaps a light rosé). If you know a winery that has one that normally does not – please let me know!
A Sparkling Side Note:
Champagne uses the clear juice from Pinot Noir grapes to make their sparkling wines. This has been true for centuries. It is often blended with Chardonnay and the lesser-known Pinot Meunier for this purpose. When Champagne uses only Pinot Noir juice to make champagne, it is designated as Blanc de Noir (White from Black).
Not Heard of White Pinot Noir?
For most wineries, white pinot noir is a small-batch production. Most of these wines only sell in winery tasting rooms or online. So unless you visit a tasting room where it is made (mostly in Oregon), it may never dawn on you to even think about the possibility. Those that do make enough to put into distribution run into the barrier of “where does a retail store shelve this wine,” of which they may only have one or two bottlings from one or two wineries.
Major Regions: Champagne, Oregon, California, Alsace, Italy, and Germany¹
White Pinot Noir Characteristics¹
Fruit: Baked apple, pear, lemon, and orange zest
Other: Honey, ginger, almond, pickled gobo
ABV: 9.5 – 13.5%
Body: Medium to Full²
Fermentation Vessel: Oak Barrels, Stainless Steel Tank, Concrete Tank²
Common Synonyms: Pinot Noir Blanc, Pinot d’Alsace, Blanc de Noirs, Burgunder, Blanc de Noir Spätburgunder, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Pinot Nero Bianco¹
¹One of my “go-to” resources for information about wine varieties and styles is Wine Folly. They are a wine education blog as well as a book and map publisher. The book for sale in the right margin of this page is the James Beard Award-winning book that is always at my side. Thank you, Wine Folly, for your valuable information about wines.
² Not part of the Wine Folly description
Tolenas Eclipse White Pinot Noir
Suisun Valley, California
When my dear friend Amber of Wine Travel Eats told me about this wine, she said that I would fall hard and heavy in love with it. I took note, as she knows my palate by I tried not to set any expectations. She later connected me to the winery, who sent a sample of the 2019 vintage (the very last bottle) and a bottle of the 2020 vintage that had been bottled a few days before shipping.
The 2019 Vintage: Appearance, Nose, Palate
With expectations set so high, I prepared to be underwhelmed. How could this wine be all that Amber claimed? Well, I am not sure how, but I must say that this wine is exceptional. The layers of both aromas and flavors could keep me sipping, smelling, and analyzing for days. The color is medium gold with overlaying amber tones.
The nose is bursting with notes of melon, green apple, circus peanut marshmallow, green banana, and a hint of marzipan. As the wine passes your lips, you are immediately hit with a crazy good blast of acidity that creates a waterfall in your mouth. The mouthfeel is velvety, and the weight is medium- to full-bodied. The crisp acidity tempers the body, making it seem lighter.
The flavors are a blend from both an orchard and the tropics. From the orchard come green apple, ripe pear, and peach fuzz. The tropics bring softer notes of mango and a hint of unripe banana. Each sip exposes a new layer to peel back and savor.
The initial burst of acid returns as the wine finishes. The flavors linger but not too long, causing you to sip once again to start the process all over again. This wine is a winner for me. I look forward to the 2020 vintage in hopes of a similar experience.
AVA: Suisun Valley
Volume: 750 mL
Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir
Winemaking: Carefully press the red grapes (whole cluster) immediately after picking. Apply minimal pressure to extract the juice but not impart the color from the skins. The captured lightly pressed juice ferments slow and cold in 100% stainless steel. Aged six months.
The 2020 Vintage: Appearance, Nose, Palate
As I said above, this wine was shipped to me a couple of days after it was bottled. As I have blogged before, wine is a living thing and can experience bottle shock. This is especially common immediately after bottling. So I allowed this wine to rest for close to 8 weeks.
I felt as if I was drinking a younger sibling to the 2019 vintage from the first sip. The color is clear medium bronze-gold. The nose showed aromas of sour apple, spring floral blossoms, and clean, fresh laundry hanging out to dry. The body is a medium minus with a slightly creamy texture. While there seems to be less acidity than the 2019 vintage, it is still mouthwatering.
The flavors on the palate are muted but clean. Orchard fruit drives this wine with subtle notes of apple, pear, and apricot. But like all younger siblings, it needs time to develop and mature. This is a delicious wine right now. However, I am confident that this wine will send me to the moon and back again with a few more months in the bottle. I can not wait.
So I better get a few bottles to be able to monitor its growth.
The 2020 vintage is currently available directly from the winery or their website. The wine sells for $35.00 a bottle.
The two wines for this post were provided as samples. When samples are provided, that does not guarantee that the wines will be profiled on the blog or my social media platforms.
Tolenas Winery 4185 Chadbourne Rd, Fairfield, CA 94534 * 707.372.1434 *
2018 Emeritus Vineyards, Hallberg Blanc,
Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Like many other wines, I found this wine through another wine writer. I loved her report, so I immediately when to their website. After several emails asking lots of questions, I placed an order.
I was not disappointed.
About Emeritus Vineyards
Brice Jones, Emeritus Vineyards founder, first foray into winemaking was Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay. This wine became one of California’s best-known Chardonnay brands. Looking for a new challenge, he sold Sonoma-Cutrer in 1999 and the same year purchased Hallberg Apple Ranch, which he turned into Emeritus Vineyards with the sole purchase of making world-class Pinot Noir. Their first vintage was in 2004.
The 2018 Hallberg Blanc is the second vintage.
Tasting Notes: Appearance, Nose, Palate
The color is medium gold with a faint pink hue. The nose is luxurious with rich sweet floral notes. In addition, we also found notes of yellow apple, ripe pear, and dried candied pineapple. The palate begins with a quick flash of acidity. Since we both enjoy high acid wines, this was a welcome first note. Yellow apple and pear are at the forefront, followed by a sweet floral perfume blended with lemon/lime.
The richness of the nose is matched by the satiny mouthfeel and texture, albeit tempered by the acid. The finish is multi-faceted as the acidity, and orchard flavors linger. A distinct drying follows this in the mouth. And concluding with the need for another sip.
AVA: Russian River Valley (Sebastopol)
Volume: 750 mL
Soil Series: Goldridge sandy loam underlain with sandy clay loam
Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Clones: 777, Hyde, 115, 828, 37, Elite, Cruz, 667
Winemaking: Indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks and used barrels; Partial malolactic fermentation; Barrel Aging – French oak barrels and puncheons, 23% new oak, aged 8 months
Emeritus Hallberg Blanc is sold directly from the winery and online for $40.00 a bottle.
[email protected] 707-823-9463 *
Left Coast 2019 Estate White Pinot Noir,
Van Duzer Corridor, Willamette Valley, Oregon
I was first introduced to Left Coast Estate wines at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival in March of 2018. It was there that Suzanne Larson, co-founder of Left Coast, was pouring samples of several of their wines. This included the 2017 vintage of their white pinot. Equally important, it was also the very first time Gary and I sampled a White Pinot Noir. And damn, it was so good that it put me on a path to find other White Pinots.
Historically speaking, 2011 was the first year for their White Pinot. The growing season was not ideal for Pinot Noir as it was a cold and wet growing season with climatically speaking, rarely a day of summer. As a result, this meant that the harvest would include both ripe and unripe fruit. So should they make an average red wine or do something different? They chose “different” and made 200 cases of 2011 White Pinot Noir. To be sure, it was a huge hit. And as a result, they now produce over 8,000 cases of this wine each year.
Tasting Notes: Appearance, Nose, Palate
The color is a clear, lightly pinked gold. The nose is bursting with plushness. In this case, coming from notes of ripe apple and pear. Following that, I parsed a subtle back note of warm baked custard, which I believe also added to the richness of the nose. Tongue-tickling acidity is key to a well-made white pinot, and this wine does not disappoint. The palate is a soft creamy texture and notes of ripe MacIntosh apples, then lemon, followed by minerality. The wine finishes with a long flowing burst of tartness and acid that started this sip.
AVA: Van Duzer Corridor Willamette Valley
Volume: 750 mL
Blend: 91% Pinot Noir, 6% Pinot Meunier, 3% Pinot Blanc
Pinot Noir Clones: Pommard, 114, 667, 777
Winemaking: The fruit is crushed at extremely cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins. The pure Pinot Noir juice is fermented in 100% Stainless Steel and then aged on the lees for six months.
Lastly, a dream was fulfilled when I got to visit Left Coast in August of 2019. One of the seminars from the WWET Willamette Conference was held in their tasting room.
I hold a fondness for this wine as it will always be my first. Additional reasons to love this wine include a price of $24.00 a bottle (directly from the winery and online) and being distributed nationally. In Charleston, it is always on the shelf at Bottles Mt. Pleasant, and last I checked, it was on sale for just $19.00
Methven Family Vineyards
2019 ‘La Fleur’ White Pinot Noir,
Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, OR
This wine was part of the lineup for one of my private and invitation-only wine tastings held on March 1, 2020. It was a big hit with our tasters, who subsequently ordered several cases directly from the winery. Additionally, at year’s end, this wine became one of our favorite wines of the year.
Since I had written tasting notes for this wine just a few months ago, I did not re-taste but rather used my notes from the earlier tasting.
Expect a textured, full body with a huggable mouthfeel. Orchard fruits predominate on the nose and palate. These include Gala and Honeycrisp apple, pear, and white peach. The wine finishes with wonderful cleansing acidity.
AVA: Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Volume: 750 mL
Varietals: 100% Pinot Noir
Clone: Dijon Clone 115
Winemaking: Carefully pressed to ensure no skin contact. Fermented and aged in 100% French Oak Barrels (75% Neutral Oak, 25% New Oak) and barrel-aged for 10-11 months.
This wine sells directly from Methven Family Vineyards for $45.00 a bottle. Less than 20 cases remain of the 62 cases produced.
Researching and writing this post has been a real labor of love.
While these wines are not widely distributed, you should search them out. I think you will find that this could be your new white wine of choice.
To be sure, these wines should become a favorite among Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, White Rhône Blends, and Marsanne-Roussanne blends.
That is all for now.
Rick & Gary