Keith Bond, Blackburn, Lancashire, UK, asks: It is my understanding that a varietal wine produced in the EU must constitute a minimum 85% of the stated variety on the label.
Why then can bottles of Alsace Pinot Blanc, and labelled as Pinot Blanc, have anything up to 100% Auxerrois in the blend, and still be sold as Pinot Blanc?
Yohan Castaing, a France-based wine writer and founder-editor of anthocyanes.fr, replies: Yes, within the EU, any wine that contains a minimum 85% of a stated grape variety may display its name on the label. From another angle, this means that if a grape variety is stated on a label, it must comprise at least 85% of the wine. However, there are some administrative subtleties.
Looking specifically at Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, an age-old tradition held that the two grape varieties were informally given the same name. Many varieties of unknown origin or name planted in northeast France were customarily called ‘Auxerrois’.
For example, it was not until 1872 that the difference between Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay was officially acknowledged. This centuries-old tradition has continued in Alsace, and the wine production specifications for the appellation took into account some traditional practices.
Thus, if the label mentions AP Alsace Pinot Blanc, the wine can be a 100% Pinot Blanc or a blend of Pinot Blanc and the real Auxerrois variety. If the wine is 100% Auxerrois, the producer can label it either as Auxerrois or Pinot Blanc. On the other hand, a 100% Pinot Blanc wine cannot use the name Auxerrois.
It should be noted that Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are not in fact the same grape variety. The first had its origin as a genetic mutation in the colour of Pinot Gris, while Auxerrois derives from Pinot and Gouais Blanc, a forgotten but prolific grape variety that had more than 80 progenies across Europe, including Chardonnay and Riesling.
Indeed, French appellation laws can hold many subtle administrative surprises.
This question first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Decanter magazine.