Pinot Grigio/Gris

Let’s say this upfront: Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape. Simply put, it is the Italian name for the variety, while Pinot Gris is the French name. Of course, things can get a little more complicated from there. Because the two grape variety names are used in different areas of wine production, they also generally indicate two different styles of wine, Pinot Grigio being the lighter, simpler one and Pinot Gris being the richer, more complex one. Regardless of what it’s called, Pinot Grigio/Gris tends to be soft, fresh, and unoaked.

The varietal is actually a clone of Pinot Noir, as are the other “Pinot” grape varieties, so it’s a fairly old grape. Therefore, it’s uncertain where Pinot Grigio was first planted, but Italy, France, and Germany are all hubs for the variety. Although Italian Pinot Grigio is by far the most well known, it’s worth exploring every side of this grape – we guarantee it will surprise you.

The grape

It’s easy to detect Pinot Grigio/Gris by sight alone, both on the vine and in the glass. Though it is a white grape, its skins are usually pink or grey, lending a slightly grey or rose gold tinge to the wine itself. Pinot Grigio tends to be a neutral grape variety, aromatically, though Alsatian versions can be more perfumed. While it has a reputation as a light, easy-drinking wine, Pinot Grigio actually tends to be fuller in body and lower in acidity, giving the impression of softness. Italian versions tend to be simpler in general, with flavors of mild citrus, round apple, river stones, and a slight beer foam or peanut shell note, while more complex versions from France and Germany can have notes of peach, baked fruit, honey, white flowers, nuts, spice, and more.

Where it grows

Pinot Grigio is grown around the world, from Italy and France to New Zealand and the U.S. It is most widely grown in northern Italy, where it thrives in the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Alto Adige. While most varieties from the Veneto tend to be simple, inexpensive, bulk wines, versions from Friuli and Alto Adige often have more concentration and balance, making them excellent sources for quality combined with value.

Over in eastern France, Pinot Gris is one of the key grapes in sunny, dry Alsace, where it is called Pinot Gris. The wines here tend to be fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol, with richer, spicier, more complex flavors. In fact, Alsatian Pinot Gris wines can age for decades. Vintners in Alsace also use Pinot Gris to produce sweet wines from botrytis-inflicted grapes, and even the dry wines can have a bit of residual sugar to them.

Germany’s volcanic Baden region is just across the river from Alsace, which is why it makes sense that the area also produces Pinot Grigio. Here, vintners call it Grauburgunder and sometimes vinify the grape in new oak, adding toasty complexity to full-bodied wines. Rheinhessen and the Pfalz also produce Grauburgunder.

The varietal has also found success in New World countries, particularly the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Oregon has adopted the grape as the white wine counterpart to its signature red, Pinot Noir, and often makes fresh, fruit-driven wines labeled as Pinot Gris.

Food pairing ideas

Recommended Pinot Grigio/Gris wines

  • Venica & Venica ‘Jesera’ Pinot Grigio, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Italy
  • Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy
  • Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve, Alsace, France
  • Franz Keller Grauburgunder, Baden, Germany
  • The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon