Pinot Blanc is a white grape varietal - and is a ‘point genetic’ mutation of Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grape is genetically unstable and will occasionally go through a ‘point mutation’ in which a vine bears all black fruit except for one cane which produces white fruit.
Historically, Pinot Blanc was used both in Burgundy and Champagne. It is still allowed in the Champagne blend and small amounts of Pinot Blanc may in principle be blended into some Burgundy wines, though very small amounts are cultivated in either region.
As of 2007, there were 1,304 hectares of Pinot Blanc vines in France, with most of the plantings found in Alsace, where it is used for both still white wines and is the most common variety used for sparkling wine, Crémant d'Alsace.
Somewhat confusingly, the designation of Pinot Blanc for Alsace AOC wine does not necessarily mean that the wine is 100% Pinot Blanc. The designation means that it is a white wine made from Pinot varieties. Under Alsace appellation rules, the varieties Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (vinified white) may all be used, but a blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois is the most common.
Part of the Burgundian family of vines whose parents have been revealed by DNA analysis to be the noble, dark-skinned Pinot Noir and a rather obscure Gouais Blanc. Pinot Blanc's siblings include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Aligoté, Sacy, Auxerrois and the Muscadet grape, Melon de Bourgogne.
Pinot Blanc often shows aromas of apple, citrus fruit, strong floral characteristics, stone fruits and mineral notes. Regardless of their exact composition, most Pinot Blanc's are vinified in tank, though more prestigious examples are fermented in large, 100% used oak barrels.
For easy, good-value drinking in a style that is likely to offend no-one, I often recommend a good quality Alsace Pinot Blanc such as Gisselbrecht. Though general enjoyed while young - Pinot Blanc can also be treated more lightly and made into a crisper, firmer wine that still has some ability to age.