What's the Difference Between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris?
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are in fact the exact same grape variety. It is a white grape, with a grayish / brownish pink skin (hence the name gris). The grape originated in France (from the Burgundian Pinot family), and is known as Pinot Gris in France, where it is most cultivated in Alsace. Across the border in Italy it is known as Pinot Grigio. While French in origin, it is really the Italians that we have to thank for bringing such huge global recognition and fame to the variety.
While they are the same grape, the two names have come to infer two different styles of wine. Immensely popular, the Italian style Pinot Grigio wines are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice. In contrast, Alsace Pinot Gris wines are more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture. They also tend to have greater cellaring and ageing potential. In Alsace, Pinot Gris also manifests itself in late harvest botrytis styles such as Vendages Tardives (VT) and the intensely rich, sweet and rare Sélection de Grains Noble (SGN).
Today Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is planted all over the world in almost every wine-growing region. For the most part these countries are making the more fashionable Pinot Grigio style, which is typically easy-drinking and destined for early consumption. That said, there are also regions that focus more on the Pinot Gris style, such as Oregon, and parts of New Zealand.
One of the downsides of the seemingly endless love affair that wine consumers have with the Pinot Grigio style, is that we now see far too many high volume, industrially made, diluted, bland but easily gluggable Pinot Grigio wines, which in my opinion does this noble variety a great disservice.
But thankfully, in the sea of Pinot Grigio wines there are many that still stand for quality displaying typicity, balance and a sense of place. Personally, I find these qualities most prevalent in the Pinot Grigio wines from Alto Adige in Northern Italy, where the wines show great purity, and are delicately aromatic with great intensity and depth of flavor.
As for the Pinot Gris style, I am truly an ardent Alsace fan. Alsace Pinot Gris wines show incredible richness, breadth across the palate, earthy minerality and terroir. Outside the motherland, I have also come to really love Oregon Pinot Gris, which in many ways combines the richness and texture of the Alsace style with the more vibrant fruitiness of the Italy style.
At the table these wines work differently as well. Pinot Grigio, being lighter is better suited to enjoying as an apéritif or with lighter dishes such grilled shrimp, fish or light appetizers. In contrast the richness of many Pinot Gris styles enables them to work with heartier fare, such as a veal chop, rabbit stew, roast port, chicken casseroles as well as hard cheeses
I'd love to hear from readers on which styles you prefer and some of your favorite Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris wines.
Below I’ve listed a number of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines that I have tasted recently. Wines that I believe warrant attention for their balance and quality.
• 2009 Seven Hills Pinot Gris, Oregon, $15 – Really vibrant juicy fruit. Crisp, mouthwatering with a medium-rich texture. Smooth and beautifully balanced showing lots of ripe stone fruit, yellow plum, flowers and spice. Persistent and refreshing finish.
• 2005 Trimback Pinot Gris Reserve, Alsace, France, $20 – Mid-gold in color. Enticing spicy, stone fruit aromas with hints of honey and smoke. Fresh, broad with intense, rich, apricot, guava flavors. Lots of earthy minerality, and a long spicy finish.
• 2007 Domaine Julien Meyer Pinot Gris Nature, Alsace, $17 – Attractive aromas of ultra ripe fruit, hints of honey and spice. Richness follows through on palate, balanced by bright acidity. Earthy, nice viscosity in the texture, smooth with a lingering, floral and spicy finish.
• 2009 Benton Lane Oregon Pinot Gris, $15 – Fresh and juicy with bright youthful aromas of ripe, nectarines, which peach and apple blossoms. Crisp, moderately rich with a medley of citrus and stone fruit flavors.
• 2007 Alois Lageder Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, $20 – Combines richness with delicacy this wine is inviting with a medley of layered aromas – ripe apricot, spice, hint of vanilla, smoke. Fresh, smooth textured and lifted ripe stone fruit flavors that persist to a long minerally finish.
• 2008 J. Hofstätter Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy, $17 – Intense peachy, nectarine aromas with layers of spice and some floral notes. Crisp, with vibrant fresh flavors, with hints of smoke and brazil not coming through.
• 2009 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige $18 – Delightfully bright, with lots of ripe stone fruit aromas and flavors, layers of spice, some smoked crushed nuts, grapefruit and apple blossom. Round, smooth, and long.
• 2008 Convento Muri-Gries Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, $15 – Crisp, juicy and very refreshing. Packed with lots of bright citrus and orchard fruit with hints of spice, nuts and white flowers.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Courtesy of Vinsalsace and producer websites.)