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Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco

Pinot Blanc is a versatile white wine grape variety that is used in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines. Although not the most glamorous member of the Pinot family, the variety has proven its worth in various European wine regions, including Alsace in northeast France, the Alto Adige region of Italy, and in parts of Germany and Austria.

The variety is often regarded as Chardonnay's understudy; like Chardonnay it produces a similar medium to full-bodied style of wine with moderate acidity, and responds well to oak maturation. Pinot Blanc's varietal characters include apple and almond, and sometimes a touch of smokiness, although – like Chardonnay – it is a palette for winemaker intervention, and flavours often depend on style.

Pinot Blanc's spiritual home is arguably Alsace, where it is overshadowed somewhat by the region's undoubted stars, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Pinot Blanc wines from the region are typified by almond aromas, with a hint of spice. On the palate they show a range of apple flavours, usually at the floral and creamy end of the spectrum and can display some light mineral characteristics. Sparkling Crémant d'Alsace wines, on the other hand, tend to be more crisp, often exhibiting a variety of nutty flavours.

By a quirk of Alsace's appellation laws, wines that are labelled as Pinot Blanc may in fact have an undisclosed proportion of Auxerrois, a similar grape variety which has slightly less acidity. Curiously, this rule does not apply to Auxerrois-labelled wines in Alsace.

In Burgundy, where the grape is thought to have originated, it is still permitted to be grown in many grand cru vineyards (although rarely makes its way into any of the wines). The variety is also one of the little-seen varieties permitted in the Champagne blend, playing second fiddle to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Outside France, Pinot Blanc is planted widely in northwest Italy, where it is known as Pinot Bianco. Here, it is made in a lighter, crisper style that rarely sees any oak intervention, and is often blended with other varieties. Pinot Bianco is also used in the production of Italian sparkling wines: most notably Franciacorta, Italy's delicious answer to Champagne.

In Germany and Austria, the variety is known as Weissburgunder (literally "White Burgundy"). In Germany, its wines are usually light and refreshing, but in Austria, it is used to make the luxuriously sweet and textured Trockenbeerenauslese. It was introduced here in the 19th century and it is grown extensively in the eastern part of the country, particularly in Niederosterreich and Burgenland.

Pinot Blanc is also commercially produced in the United States, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay. Alcohol levels in these wines tend to be medium to high, with good acidity giving the wine a slightly sour, tart, edge. Pinot Blanc's high natural acidity makes it a popular choice in the production of sparkling wine in California, while in Canada it can be made as an ice wine. Canada's Okanagan Valley has developed a reputation as a quality region for still Pinot Blanc production.