The Ultimate Guide to Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris

What is Pinot Grigio?

Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the Pinot Gris grape. Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris is used to make white wine in many countries around the world.

When a wine is labelled as Pinot Grigio it will usually be made in the Italian style developed in Northern Italy. Here the grapes are harvested early before too much sugar is allowed to develop in the grapes. This leads to a very dry, crisp wine and a very different style to Pinot Gris from Alsace which will tend to be a lot richer with stone fruit and spice notes.

Pinot Grigio is wildly popular in the UK accounting for 9.3% of consumer still wine market. Second only to Sauvignon Blanc. We drink around 85 million bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio each year which is almost a third of the annual production.

What is Pinot Gris?

Pinot Gris is a grape derived from the family of grapes containing Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc and it is grown in wine regions across the world. Most notably in the Alsace region of France and in Northern Italy where it is called Pinot Grigio.

Alsatian Pinot Gris tends to be less dry and minerally than it’s Italian counter part, this is down to differences in the viticulture where the grapes are left to ripen on the vine for longer.

Pinot Gris was historically a popular planting in Burgundy and Champagne where it is thought it developed as a mutation of pinot noir. However poor yields and unreliable crops caused the grape to fall out of favour in those areas. It was introduced to Alsace in the middle ages by Hungarian traders, who discovered the grape in Burgundy. The first Pinot Gris produced in Alsace was known as Tokay d’Alsace, borrowing the name from the popular Hungarian wine region of Tokaji.

In a similar vein we named our family dog Tokaji, who is a Hungarian Viszla.

What does Pinot Grigio / Gris mean?

Pinot Grigio is a mutation of the the Pinot Noir(Black) grape variety. Lighter in colour than the Pinot Noir grapes and darker than Pinot Blanc(White). Pinot Gris(Grey) is somewhere in between the two.

What is the difference between the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris grape varieties?

Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the Pinot Gris grape variety. So in this sense Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are exactly the same. However Pinot Grigio is also used to denote a style of wine originally coming from Northern Italy. Italian Pinot Grigio tends to be very dry and crisp this is due to the grapes being harvested earlier than they are in other regions, notably in Alsace.

Where does Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris come from?

Originally grown in Burgundy and Champagne where it mutated from Pinot Noir grapes grown in those regions. Pinot Gris grew in prominence in Alsace and then spread to other regions across the world most notably in northern Italy where it is called Pinot Grigio. We’ve highlighted the main Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio regions of the world below.

France – Alsace

Pinot Gris is one of the major grape varieties grown in Alsace. Together with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat it forms the group of so-called Noble Grapes. Alsace Pinot Gris wines must be made with 100% Pinot Gris grapes and they taste very complex. Only noble grapes can be used in the Alsace Grand Cru AOC wine and the late harvest wines Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles. Pinot Gris is grown in nearly 15% of the vineyards in Alsace.

The wine is typically dry with very powerful flavors. These develop from the viticulture where grapes are usually allowed to hang on the vine for a long period of time before harvest and also from the terroir where the cool climate and volcanic soils help develop complexity in the wine.

Australia

Pinot Gris was first introduced into Australia in 1832 in the collection of grapes brought by the father of the Australian wine industry, James Busby.

Victoria is a prominent region for Pinot Gris, wines from the grape are labelled both Pinot gris and Pinot Grigio, depending on the sweetness of wine with the drier wines being labelled Pinot Grigio.

Germany

In Germany Pinot Gris is known as Grauburgunder.  The main German regions for  growing Grauburgunder are  Baden,  Rheinhessen, Palatinate and the grape accounts for 6.5% of the vineyard area of Germany. There are two main styles of Pinot Gris produced in Germany, Grauburgunder which tends to be drier and similar to the Pinot Gris produced in Alsace and Ruländer which is much sweeter in style. The name Ruländer is also used for Pinot Gris coming from Austria and Romania.

Italy

Italy is the largest producer of Pinot Grigio grapes in the world and Britain consumes 28% of the Italian Pinot Grigio production each year. The main Italian regions for Pinot Grigio are Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost wine region.

New Zealand

Pinot Gris is on the ascent in New Zealand with nearly eight-fold increase in production since 2003. It is grown on both the North and South Island, with the warmer climate in the North leading to a ripe style where as the cooler climate wines from regions like Marlborough on the South Island have more structure.

United States

David Lett planted the first American Pinot Gris vines in Oregon in 1965. The grape was originally difficult to find a sustainable market, until it became popular among salmon traders in the 1990s who marketed it to go with their fish. Pinot Gris is now also grown widely in California where the style is lighter and similar to Italian Pinot Grigio than the Pinot Gris from Oregon.

Other Regions

In addition to the main regions highlighted above Pinot Gris is also grown in Argentina, Switzerland, Greece, Canada, Czech Republc, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa and China.

What are common synonyms for Pinot Gris?

Pinot Gris has lots of different names around the world. Here are some of the more common ones Auxerrois gris, Fauvet, Fromentau / Fromentot, Grauburgunder / Grauer Burgunder, Grauer Mönch, Grauklevner, Gris cordelier, Malvoisie, Monemvasia, Pinot grigio, Pinot Beurot, Ruländer Rulandské šedé, Sivi pinot, Szürkebarát, Tokay d’Alsace, Піно ґрі, Піно сірий, Пино гриджо, 灰皮诺

The 3 Main Styles of Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris

Minerally & Dry Pinot Grigio

Most commonly associated with Italy, this style of Pinot Grigio is heavily influenced by the Alpine soils in which it is grown. This coupled with the earlier grape harvest leads to very dry, crisp wines with high acidity. Other Alpine countries growing Pinot Gris tend to make wines in this style. For instance Austria, Slovenia and even Hungary.

Fruity & Dry Pinot Gris

Most typically found in Alsace and usually called Pinot Gris this style is less dry than Pinot Grigio with more fruit. Flavours of lemon, apple and white peach are common tasting notes. These wines tend to be less acidic, this is often caused by a wine making technique that is employed known as malolactic fermentation.

Fruity & Sweet Pinot Gris

Produced primarily in the Alsace and also in Germany, this style of Pinot Gris is left much longer on the vine, allowing botrytis or ‘noble rot’ to develop on the grapes. Offering flavours of sweet lemon, honey comb and honey crisp apples along with a textured mouthfeel.

In Alsace look out for Grand Cru, Vendage Tardives(Late Harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles demarcations.

Food Pairings for Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a natural accompaniment to fish and seafood. It’s native regions of north east Italy border the Adriatic sea, we’d choose to enjoy it with some barbecued shell fish or a delicious moules mariniere. You could also serve it with a light pasta dish and it will stand up to Chicken

Food Pairings for Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is pretty versatile and will complement lots of foods. It’s a good match for fish however it is with food from East Asia that it really excels. Standing up to the spice, a cool refreshing glass of Pinot Gris works perfectly.

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