By Celia Strong
Off we go again. More learning, more tasting, more fun. Part of the fun this week, I think, is we’re going to visit a region we don’t go to very often. And, we’re going to taste a grape that we don’t do very often. Which means, an extra big amount of learning. Yay!
Our region is the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California. This AVA, established in 1983, is located northwest of the town of Healdsburg. Dry Creek is actually a big creek, a tributary of the Russian River. It’s about sixteen miles long and two miles wide. Truth be known, this is a pretty dry area, where vineyards are using water from the nearby Lake Sonoma reservoir to irrigate. There are more than fifty wineries located in the Dry Creek Valley, and more than 160 wineries make wines with Dry Creek grapes. At the end of the 20th century, Dry Creek was one of the most important areas for Zinfandel and Sonoma Cabernet production. Sauvignon Blanc became the most important white variety.
But, (always the “but”) our grape this week is Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc is a white variety related to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. But, from that fact on, studying more about Pinot Blanc can be confusing and frustrating. It’s been said that “P-no no one really knows” could be its’ name. Pinot Blanc’s leaves, clusters and berries resemble those of Chardonnay to the point where Chardonnay was called Pinot Chardonnay once. Even though it’s not a Pinot at all. Both grapes grew together in Burgundy, back several hundred years. And, as grapes traveled to other countries, including the United States, there was no guarantee what was being planted was Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc or, even, several other similar varieties. DNA tests on what were thought to be Pinot Blanc vines in California showed most of them were Melon de Bourgogne (another name for Muscadet).
But, let’s move on. The characteristics of Pinot Blanc wines. They have a noticeable roundness. A feeling in your mouth. Usually, these wines have less body and less acidity than Chardonnay wines. Their flavors are full, lots of apples and citrus fruits, floral notes, and stone fruits. And, more than most other wines, they are extremely food friendly. Good news for us! All kinds of foods, from all over the world. Seafood for sure. In cream sauces, cheese sauces, smoked, raw. Asian flavors, herbs, tomatoes. Onion tart. Goat cheeses. Chicken and veal in cream sauces, especially with mushrooms. Roast duck and goose. Omelets. Sausage dishes, with sauerkraut. Smoked meats and cheeses. Salads. Risottos. Almost an endless list.
Now, hungry and thirsty, let’s look at our winery for this week. Michel – Schlumberger. Jean-Marc Michel, a native of Switzerland, planted vines in the Dry Creek Valley in 1979. He had looked all over northern California for the perfect location for his winery. He recognized that the soil and climate of Dry Creek would be perfect, especially for red grapes. In 1991, Jacques Pierre Schlumberger joined Michel’s winery team. He brought with him his family’s 400 year background in Alsatian wine making. They became partners and the Michel – Schlumberger brand was created. Today, the style of the winery is a combination of Alsatian and Spanish. Europe and California history blended together. They are committed to sustainable farming, meeting the needs of today without infringing on the future. All of which means we get to taste their wine now. The La Bise Pinot Blanc. This wine is 100% Pinot Blanc. True Pinot. The grapes were harvested on cool mornings in September, which helps to enhance the apple and peach flavors in the wine. It also means there is a lower sugar level in the grapes so the wine is drier. The grapes were fermented at cool temperatures and the wine was aged for no more than six months. In stainlees steel. Interesting? The wine developed complexities from sitting on its lees, without adding any “wood” flavors. And, what does “la bise” mean? It’s French for “kiss.” But, I won’t tell if you don’t tell. P-no one knows. For $15.99. Enjoy.