Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same. Pinot Grigio is the Italian version that makes dry, crips white wine that is phenomenally popular with wine drinkers in the United States and northern Europe. While Pinot Gris, from Alsace in France, where the wines tend to be richer and more complex in character.
These grapes are included in the Pinot family of grapes, the others being the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white wine Pinot Blanc. Unlike other grapes used for making white wine, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris have a red or dark pink skin. In fact it is used to make ‘orange wines’ or ‘ramato’ style, a subject I wrote about recently.
Pinot Gris from Alsace, where it is known as Tokay Pinot Gris, is not only used to make dry wines but also some of finest sweet wines in the world. On the label it will say ‘Grand Cru Pinot Gris’ or the richer and ‘vendage tardives’, which means ‘late harvest’ or the rarer ‘Sélection de Grains Nobles’, wines that have been made from botrytis affected grapes.
Yet most Italian Pinot Grigio’s at best are very light and without really tasting of anything. So what is the secret to its success and it there more to this grape other than its Italian name.
I doubt that Pinot Grigio would be nearly as popular if it was called by its English translation, Grey Pinot. One of the main reasons behind its success is marketing and the success of brands such as Santa Margarita in the US and ‘Buyers Own Brand’ Pinot Grigio in the UK have driven the sales of this Italian White wine. There is no thought required, it is a simple, unoaked, reliable wine.
Not all Italian Pinot Grigio are as I have just described. In the Alto Adige and Friuli regions of northern Italy there are some fine examples of this grape varieties. The wines have more complexity and character, from having spent more time in contact with the skins and lees. Producers such as Lis Neris in Friuli and Alois Lageder in the Alto Adige make very fine wines from Pinot Grigio.
Just across the border in Slovenia, there are some stunning examples of Pinot Grigio, particularly well regarded are the wines from Movia owned by Ales Kristancic, whose family have been making wines since 1820.
Further away in Marlborough New Zealand, a region better known for its Sauvignon Blanc, some stunning Pinot Grigio’s are being produced. One of my favourites is an organic version from Urlar Estate, whose wine has been fermented in barrel and left in contact with the lees giving it a creamier texture and with flavours of pear and other white stone fruits.