Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris: Is There a Difference?

July 02, 2021

Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris: Is There a Difference?

The short answer: yes and no. If you’re talking about the grapes used to make Pinot Grigio wine, then there is no difference. Both are produced from the same blueish grey grape (a relative of Pinot Noir) to produce this white wine. This is why the terms Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are often interchangeable. However, there is a difference when it comes to the wine’s style. Depending on where the grapes were grown and the techniques used by winemakers, you can find a wine that is either dry and fruity, dry and minerally, or sweet and fruity.

Continue reading to discover more about this zippy white wine and notable regions to look to expand your palate.

History of Pinot Grigio

Originally from France, Pinot Gris is a white wine grape variety that is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape. From here the grape found its way to Switzerland and then to Italy where the story of Pinot Grigio begins. The grape found success in the northern regions of Italy, notably in Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige. Pinot Grigio quickly became one of the most popular white wine grapes in Italy and one of the most imported white wines in the USA. But what does Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio taste like?

The Flavors of Pinot Grigio

pinot grigio and pinot gris flavor profile infographic

The key differences between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are their levels of sweetness and the flavors that are highlighted. Whilst Pinot gris is often more full-bodied and fresh with notes of tropical fruits, stone fruits, and citrus, Pinot Grigio is light-bodied with crisp notes of pear, green apple, and floral hints. With this being said, we think that when it comes to Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, there are 3 key flavor profiles that we can come across.

1. Dry and Minerally

The leanest expression of Pinot Grigio, you can find dry and minerally styles in the Alpine Valleys throughout Italy, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary. The mountains help the grapes maintain high acidity to result in zippy and lean wines. If you’re looking for the quintessential Pinot Grigio, this is the style to look for - especially if you’re looking for a companion on a hot summer day. Keep an eye out for the following regions:

  • Italy: anything from Alto Adige, Trentino, or Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  • Germany: look for wines labelled as Grauburgunder from Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau
  • Austria: look for wines labelled as either Pinot Gris or Grauburgunder from Burgenland or Steiermark

2. Dry and Fruity

Wines labelled as Pinot Gris are often more fruit-driven: expect to taste flavors of lemon, yellow apple, white peach. You can also expect a more oily texture or oily mouthfeel (like licking wax paper). This is due to a process called malolactic fermentation in which winemakers add a special bacteria after the alcohol fermentation to convert sharp tasting acids to smooth ones. To experience this style of Pinot Gris, look to regions with a warmer climate like:

  • USA: California, Washington State, and Oregon
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • South Africa

3. Sweet and Fruity

Alsace is one of the only regions in the world that produces a sweet and fruity Pinot Gris. What originally started as an attempt to recreate a sweet wine called Tokaji that was enjoyed by Kings in Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire, resulted in this sweet Pinot Gris (originally called Tokay d’Alsace). Winemakers have to use advanced techniques to create this wine - namely by using late harvest grapes and even noble rot grapes. If you get a chance to try this wine, look out for flavors of sweet lemon candy, honeycomb, and honey crisp apples. Most Pinot Gris bottles that are of this sweet and fruity style will have one of the following:

  • Grand Cru: there are 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace that offer bolder styles of Pinot Gris
  • Vendage Tardives: this simply means late harvest and indicates that the grapes were harvested late to increase the sweetness level
  • Selection de Grains Nobles: this is a very rare style of Alsatian Pinot Gris which uses grapes that have noble rot

How to Pair Food with Pinot Grigio

Pairing Pinot Grigio with food is easier than most. Its relatively high acidity and low sweetness make it a natural pairing with food. Look for foods with tangy herbs or vegetable dishes. Lighter and fresher Pinot Grigio will pair better with lighter and fresher dishes such as Sushi or Kinilaw. A richer Pinot Gris can stand up to richer foods. Look to light pork dishes, ripe soft cheeses, or tilapia with a cream sauce.

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