Looking for yet another “enological vegetable,” a wine you’ve been told to drink because despite its unfamiliarity or gustatory challenges, it is in some way supposed to be good for you? No, probably not.

Writers, retailers and sommeliers have harangued you for not drinking more Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Dolcetto and Gamay, but it feels like a scolding. Wine shouldn’t be homework.

I don’t want to guilt you. I don’t want to come off like a biochemistry professor assigning a problem set. So please don’t take this the wrong way when I ask you to try Pinot Blanc. Not because it’s “important,” not because it “expresses terroir,” not because it’s hip.

I’m asking you because the pleasures of Pinot Blanc are at once immediate and inspiring.

Pinot Blanc is grown all over, most prestigiously in Alsace (often blended with a hefty amount of Auxerrois). Northern Italy also produces great PB, as do Germany and Austria. Californian and Oregonian expressions can be terrific too, although many California PBs are actually majority Melon de Bourgogne (!), oaked to pretty up that grape’s relative leanness.

Pinot Blanc offers such varied profiles. When left unoaked and simple, it can be very bright and direct. When vinified with oak barrels or when allowed to undergo the softening effects of malolactic fermentation, it becomes a very rich, full-bodied thing.

I like both ends of that spectrum and much of what lies in between (and I don’t say that about a lot of white wines).

More often than not, Pinot Blancs offer a ripe, round, structured elegance, texturally like an avocado mousse or melon soup. Melons, indeed, are often a flavor impression, as well as pears and temperate flowers.

But Pinot Blanc’s particular taste sensations are less important to me than its character: graceful, dignified and wry, with a restrained power that only manifests under certain circumstances.

Usually the acidity is mild and perfect for fat: fried things (chicken, seafood, tempura), eggs, butter and cream sauces.

Unless you’re into a serious Alsatian Cru, where your pairings need to be more thought out, Pinot Blanc is tremendously flexible with food, and I can’t think of a better combination for picnics (cold roasted chicken), fish tacos, white pastas and risottos.

It’s a great wine to start drinking when very cold, then watch as it warms and opens up tremendously at the table. Like a “Greatest Generation” male who’s seen a lot in his life but doesn’t see the need to talk about it all the time.

Another analogy? Oh, OK: Pinot Blanc is like a fireworks display – first the hissing light-points ascending, then the burst into showering colors, then those soft background booms.

Cave de Turckheim 2007, Alsace, $12 (Nappi): One of my favorite desserts is a semolina cake, sweetened with light honey and touched by a hint of lemon. Though persistently mineral and very dry, this on-point Alsatian emulates that balance of freshness, joy and bite.

Hugel Cuvee Les Amours 2007, Alsace, $15 (National): On the very dry end, with more pronounced smoke, seashells, iron and wet rocks. Very elegant, and makes a tantalizing, graceful exit as you ask it, in vain, to stay the night. This bottle emptied exceptionally fast with non-wine-geek friends.

Adelsheim 2008, Oregon, $18 (National): Wet leaves and steel on the nose, with incredibly racy, lime-y acidity and green apple, then warm sunlight on a wood floor and intense dried apricot. Very aligned and upright, digitized.

Eyrie Vineyards 2008, Oregon, $20 (National): Though also from 2008 Oregon, this wine is utterly unlike the Adelsheim. Much more structure, much more body: bigger bones, more flesh. It’s a rich and honeyed thing, with tropical flowers, cantaloupe and meringue, with terrific acid bite, though subtler, and not as crackling as the Adelsheim. For fried shrimp, Pad Thai or semi-soft cheeses. Just a tremendous, grand wine.

St. Michael-Eppan 2009, Alto Adige, $14 (Pine State): Many Pinot Blancs are ideal for a curious buttery-Chardonnay lover; here’s a top candidate. Unctuous and succulent, oozing butter, brown sugar and caramel. After a day, it took on a musky, burnished-wood quality too.

Valley of the Moon 2009, Sonoma, $12 (Pine State): Not my style, which is more angular, but this is an interesting, noteworthy wine. Another excellent Chardonnay bridge, with its full body and toasty vanilla-and-cardamom warmth.

Alois Lageder 2009, Alto Adige, $15 (Wicked): Textbook Alpine Italy, and scintillating: a kind of moist-grass hike on the edges of farmland. With mild acidity, the Lageder’s prominent feature is its rich and distinctively oily texture.

I drank it with a shrimp/potato/sugarsnap salad, but it would be even better with popcorn shrimp or other fried shellfish.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at [email protected]