Pinot Grigio is a wine of many hues and synonyms. From lemon to copper to pale pink, its unique grape-skin color provides many styles for winemakers to produce. Most countries produce either Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris (more on the differences in a moment). But it also goes by the names Auxerrois Gris in Alsace, Fromentau in Languedoc, Grauburgunder in Germany, and Monemvasia in Greece – among many others. No matter the name, read on to discover the individual attributes of this unique grape.
Grigio vs Gris
The confusion stops here; Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape. However, depending on where it grows, it can display contrasting characteristics.
Pinot Grigio refers to styles from regions in northern Italy like Alto Adige and Trentino. Italian versions are usually bone-dry with high acidity. French versions are called Pinot Gris and come mainly from Alsace. However, it does grow in other famous French regions such as Burgundy and the Loire Valley. France versions have a weightier body with a slight unctuous/oily mouthfeel.
What It Tastes Like
Pinot Grigio/Gris can be difficult to pinpoint in a blind tasting because it doesn’t have an obvious identifier. Riesling can have petrol notes, and Sauvignon Blanc is known for its herbaceous qualities. But the flavors and characteristics of Pinot Grigio can vary greatly, depending on where it’s from and how it’s made.
Versions from cool climates have a lighter body with lean characteristics, offering zesty citrus and yellow fruit flavors with crisp acidity. In warmer wine-growing regions like Australia and the United States, its mouth-feel is robust, with stone fruit and melon flavors.
The majority of Pinot Grigio/Gris is for drinking young, usually within one or two years from its release. However, fuller-bodied versions from Alsace or Germany do have the ability to age well.
Why It’s Pink
Pinot Grigio/Gris is one of four common Pinot grapes, including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Pinot is a French word meaning ‘pine’ and alludes to the grape’s tight cluster, creating a cone-shaped bunch.
It’s believed that Pinot Grigio/Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir. They share much of the same DNA, except the color of their grape skin. Pinot Noir is a red grape, offering the ability to make red and rosé wine. In contrast, Pinot Grigio/Gris makes primarily white wine with zero skin contact during the winemaking process. However, skin-contact wines are not uncommon, which produce a light pink or sometimes copper-hued wine.
The Grape’s Origins
Considering its connection to Pinot Noir, many assume that the origin of Pinot Grigio/Gris is Burgundy, France. Small amounts still grow there, in addition to Champagne. However, the most notable versions come from Alsace. There, it’s one of four noble grape varieties that make Alsace Grand Cru, Vendange Tardive (VT) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN).
It’s not entirely known how the grape made its way to northern Italy. However, the country leads in plantings across the globe. There are reports that over 25 thousand hectares of Pinot Gris grow in Italy. The remaining 35 thousand hectares worldwide grow mainly in France, Germany, the United States and Australia.