FAWQ: Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio

What exactly is the difference between the Pinot G wines?

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Simply put, it’s both a language and a style difference. Both wines are made from the same grape variety, ‘grey’ Pinot. It has a grey-pink hue to its skin, thus the reference to 'grey' in its name. It can also be used to produce Rose due to this light pink tinge to its skin.

Thus the variety is known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, and Pinot Gris in France. Outside of France and Italy, particularly in the New World, the names have been used somewhat interchangeably and this has created a lot of confusion for consumers.

Pinot Gris, as produced in France, is a medium to full bodied wine with weight and texture. It tends to have high alcohol for a white wine, and generally sports complex aromatics of pear, apple and sweet spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). It can also have varying levels of residual sugar – some Pinot Gris can be quite sweet.

Pinot Grigio, as produced in Italy, is generally a lighter wine with lower alcohol. It is usually inexpensive and can be quite neutral and simple, with pear, apple and floral characters. The best examples are produced in Alto Adige, the Italian Alps, where the wines are more complex and display beautiful minerality.

Australian examples tend to come from the King Valley and Adelaide Hills (usually Grigio), and the Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania (usually Gris). 


The Grape

Pinot Gris is a grape that originated in France, in the Burgundy region, which is famous for Pinot Noir. In fact, the grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, - Pinot Noir has fussy DNA and tends to mutate easily. Another grape variety, Pinot Blanc, is also a mutation of Pinot Noir.

Despite originating in Burgundy, it is not grown there, and Alsace is the only region of note in France that cultivates the grape in large quantities.

The grape jumped the border into Germany, where it is known as Grauburgunder (Grey Burgundy), and has been fairly successful in the warmer, Southern regions.

It also hitched a ride into Northern Italy, where it became known as Pinot Grigio in the native tongue, and went on to have huge success producing large quantities of fairly neutral, dry white wine.

Gris, as produced in France, is a medium to full bodied wine with weight and texture. It tends to have high alcohol for a white wine, and generally sports complex aromatics of pear, apple and sweet spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). It can also have varying levels of residual sugar – some Pinot Gris can be quite sweet.

 

Styles

Despite being the same variety, the French version and the Italian version of the grape are very different, and this is how new world wineries in New Zealand and Australia tend to label their version of the grape: by wine style.

In France, Pinot Gris is a medium to full bodied wine with texture and weight. The wine usually has relatively high alcohol, which contributes to the body and 'fullness' of the wine. The wine tends to be quite perfumed, and can have fresh pear, apple and sweet spice (think cinnamon, nutmeg) characters. Pinot Gris can also have varying levels of residual sugar, from bone dry to medium sweet in style. It can even be found as a dessert wine. Pinot Gris as a style pairs well with food, particularly spicy foods and Asian cuisine.

The Italian version is much lighter in body, and typically lower in alcohol. It tends to not have very pronounced aromas, and can be quite neutral on the nose. It is generally an inexpensive, dry white wine with pleasant pear, apple and vanilla flavours, and most examples will display these characters. In the Alto Adige region of Italy, more complex styles are made, though these are the exception. Most Pinot Grigio in Italy is mass produced, as the grape tends to yield very large harvests, which can result in light, dilute wine. However there are still some fantastic wines to be had, and they tend to be great value.