The Very Versatile Pinot Blanc 

A subtle white with rich and well-balanced flavors

One of the many descendants of the original pinot variety, the white wine grape pinot blanc is a clonal mutation of pinot gris, which in turn is a lighter colored version of pinot noir. It originated in France in the late 19th century, where it was often confused with the similar-appearing chardonnay grape. Tastewise, the two share little in common, other than the fact that both are rather full-bodied. It is also an unfortunate reality that chardonnay produces the more-popular wine--unfortunate because pinot blanc has much to recommend it. While the aromas are often subtle, the flavors are typically rich and well-balanced, making for a very versatile wine. Here are the panel's top three picks:

2010 Elk Cove Pinot Blanc, $17.99

A lovely array of smoothly textured aromas pour from the glass, including peach, pear, lemon custard, lime, vanilla and mineral. This entry from Oregon's Willamette Valley is round and rich without being over the top. Most of the fruit apparent on the nose comes through on the palate, where ripe stone fruit plays against lively lemon and lime. This is an outstanding wine in every way.

2010 Schulthauser Pinot Bianco, $21

Pinot bianco is an Italian take on the grape that hails from the northern region of Alto Adige in the shadow of the Alps. This wine's nose is an intriguing mix of stone dust and melon. That melon carries over to the palate, where it is joined by creamy peach and apple. This is another rich wine that's perfectly balanced by bright, food-friendly acidity.

2010 Skylark Pinot Blanc, $20

There's a light touch of earth coloring the soft pineapple and melon aromas in this pinot blanc from Mendocino, Calif. It's a beautifully structured wine offering crisp citrus that's very well matched by sweet peach and mango. The refreshing, ripe lemon flavors on the finish linger nicely.

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