Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio – How Are They Different?

White wines add excitement and joy to any wine enthusiast’s palate. The good ones out there like the popular duo, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, are fruity, refreshing, and relatively crisp. They are enjoyed by themselves as well as when matched or paired intelligently with a wide array of foods. They can be sweet or dry, and in this regard, the Pinot Gris takes the upper hand, and is also the most cherished and loved in the wine universe. Read on to find out more about this claim.

Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio: What You Need to Know

There are approximately twelve popular or common types of grapes that are used for making white wine throughout the world, and four of these are top choices for both production as well as consumption in the United States.

The following are the top four choices of grapes used for making white wine in no particular order:

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio

Pinot Gris grapes are the same as Pinot Grigio grapes; the difference is in the name as well as the regions where they were cultivated, the wine-making process, and the final product.

Even though the Pinot Gris grapes look purplish – which are actually gray – they produce one of the best white wines in the United States and the world at large. The grapes originate from France, but they are also cultivated in Oregon, Chile, Italy, etc.

In Italy, Pinot Gris is known as Pinot Grigio and the wine produced is also different. We will be taking an in-depth look at Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio grapes in the next few paragraphs in this article.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is, by a considerable margin, the most used wine grape in the United States, and probably in the world as well. The grapes originated from the Burgundy region of France but is cultivated in countries like South Africa, Australia, Argentina, and Chile today.

In the United States, Chardonnay is cultivated in Virginia, Oregon, California, Texas, New York, etc.

Riesling

Although Riesling grapes are more closely associated with Germany, they are also cultivated in Australia, the Alsace region of France as well as in Austria. The grapes are less popular than chardonnay grapes, mainly because they are not widely cultivated in the United States.

Many wine connoisseurs, however, regard Riesling as the best white wine grapes in the world as a result of the lightness and delicate fruity flavors you will enjoy when you drink it.

Many people in the wine universe also erroneously assign Riesling under the “Sweet wine” category. But the truth is that Riesling usually takes varying levels of sweetness from dry to sweet.

Wines made from the Riesling grape is not aged in oak, has high acidity as well as low alcohol content. It is incredibly flowery, fruity, refreshing, and light.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc grapes produce white wines that come with noticeable flavors of grass, hay, and herbs. The wines have high acidity and also exhibit hints of melons and fruit.

The grapes are traditionally associated with France, but Australia and New Zealand seem to have taken the lead. As a rule, Sauvignon Blanc is not aged in oak.

Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio: The Significant Differences Between These Two Wines

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same in every sense, i.e. they belong to the same grape variety. This grape is somewhat whitish with a brownish pink/graying skin, which is why it is called “gris,” in French meaning “gray.”

The pinot grape – from the colorful Burgundian Pinot family – originated in France, and this is where its official name is “Pinot Gris.” It is mostly cultivated in Alsace, a region of northern France that is, of course, famous for its wines.

However, across the border in Italy, this particular pinot grape is known as “Pinot Grigio.” Although the pinot grape may have its origins in France, it was the Italians that brought the attention of the wine-loving universe to this remarkable wine grape, thereby bringing fame and global recognition to the variety.

The pinot grape may be the same, but not the wine. This is because both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have come to infer two different styles:

  • Pinot Gris wines are produced from riper grapes that are exposed to the sun for much longer than the grapes used for making Pinot Grigio. Alsace is one of the sunniest wine regions in northeastern France.
  • Pinot Gris wines are richer, spicier, drier, more full-bodied, viscous in texture with tropical fruit aromas. This wine which comes with notes of white peach, honeysuckle, and pear also has high acidity. They are also inclined to more exceptional aging and cellaring potency.
  • Pinot Grigio wines are generally crisp, lighter-bodied, fresh and come with citrus aromas and vibrant stone fruit.

This simple, slightly sweet or off-dry white wine is not only less sweet but portrays a bit of lime citrus, lemon, and green apple notes.  They also have a spicy hint about them.

  • Pinot Gris, back in Alsace, also manifests itself in a variety of styles such as the sweet, rare, and intensely rich Sélection de Grains Noble (SGN) and the dessert-style Vendages Tardives (VT) which are wines produced from late-harvested pinot grapes.
  • Pinot Grigio does not have the luxury of manifesting itself in other varieties.
  • Alsace Pinot Gris wines show incredible breadth across the palate, richness, along with earthy minerality and terroir.

Pinot Grigio wines from Alto Adige in Northern Italy, on the other hand, are delicately aromatic, show great purity with a depth of flavor.

  • Pinot Gris wines also age better and longer than their Italian cousins, Pinot Grigio wines.
  • Since Pinot Grigio wines are not meant to be aged but must be consumed within 1-2 years after harvest/vintage, they are mostly bottled under a screwcap closure to help maintain their zestiness and freshness of their delicate flavors

Two Major Reasons to Choose Pinot Gris Over Pinot Grigio

As might be expected, your final selection between these two great wines is a matter of bias or preference. However, there are two significant reasons you should go for Pinot Gris instead of Pinot Grigio:

Pinot Gris Comes with a Much Bigger Flavor Payoff than its Counterpart

You can quickly locate both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in almost any liquor store. However, it will be a wise move on your part to go for a vino that delivers rich flavors and zesty acidity within a light body.

Both are produced and distributed all over the world anyway, so there is more than enough Pinot Gris for everyone wine enthusiasts out there.

Pinot Gris is Much More Interesting and Enjoyable to A Higher Degree Than Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a nondescript wine that is somewhat underwhelming. However, this wine has managed to develop an impressive following over the years, which is primarily attributed to its availability.

This wine is also very neutral; this is a useful attribute, especially if you need to serve lots of individuals who have different tastes as well. It is, therefore, safe to say that Pinot Grigio does not “offend anybody.”

But on the other hand, Pinot Gris offers a much more distinct flavor profile which makes it possible to pair it with almost any food under the sun. Not only will Pinot Gris pair exceptionally well with anything that Pinot Grigio pairs with, but it will also delight both beginners or new wine drinkers and experienced ones as well.

Pinot Gris Wine

Pinot Gris Wine is a white-wine grape of the pinot family which originated initially from the vineyards of Burgundy. The pinot grape can now be found in several wine regions around the world.

Wines that are made in a light-style and pale variety that was made incredibly popular in the late 20th century in Italy is known by an Italian name, “Pinot Grigio.”

The Pinot Gris grape, which is one of the members of the extended pinot family grape varieties, is the pink-skinned, grayish mutation of Pinot Noir.

These two varieties with Pinot origins are indistinguishable in the vineyard until veraison. “Veraison” is a French term that is commonly used in viticulture to mark the period in the growth cycle of the grapevine when berries start changing their color and ultimately become softer.

Find out more about this French term in the “Technical Wine Terms You Should Know” section later on in this article.

Pinot Gris berries go-ahead to take on their distinct range of colors which could be anything from orange-pink to dusty, pale purple. The French word “Gris” means “gray” in the English language.

The “gris” refers to the light-grey but dusty sheen that these grapes take on at the end of the day. This is the convention that is utilized in the following locations:

  • Italy (grigio)
  • Czech (sede)
  • Slovenia (sivi)
  • Germany (grauer)

Pinot Gris Wine and its Flavors

Although Pinot Gris is sometimes used as a blending component, it is, in most cases, produced as a varietal wine. Aromas and flavors, however, vary from one region to another as well as from style to style.

But typical notes that feature in Pinot Gris Wine include notes of tropical fruit, stonefruit, sweet spices, pears, apples, and a slight hint of wet wool or smoke. Most vintners usually avoid the apparent oaky character in their Pinot Gris, but some of these winemakers make use of older and more neutral barrels for fermenting the product.

For more complex styles of Pinot Gris, partial malolactic fermentation and lees contact are commonly used. There are also sweet late-harvest dessert wines as well, which are more common in the Alsace region in northeastern France.

Pinot Gris Wine: Climate and Topography

Pinot Gris grapes are naturally high in sugars and incredibly low in acidity. This is perhaps the primary reason why the best and finest Pinot Gris wines come from the colder viticultural regions of the world.

The Pinot Gris wines produced in warmer climates usually lack acidity, structure, and relatively look and feel too alcoholic.

For instance, examples of Pinot Gris Wines produced in Europe come from vineyards that are planted on either side of the Rhine river; in the Alsace region in France and from Baden to Pfalz in Germany.

The Pinot Gris wines that are produced in all these regions come in varying levels of sweetness i.e. from bone dry to delectably sweet. One of the sweetest, most intensely flavored Pinot Gris Wines from the Alsace regions of France is the Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles.

Pinot Gris thrives exceptionally in deep and well-drained calcareous soils.

Pinot Gris Budding and Ripening

Pinot Gris is one of the early variety of grapes in the world today in terms of both the vegetative as well as the ripening phase. This grape usually buds at least 2 days after the benchmark variety known as Chasselas.

It reaches full ripeness at least a week and a half after it. This categorizes Pinot Gris as a Period I grape variety.

Pinot Gris was, for several centuries, known as “Tokay d’Alsace” or Tokay in Alsace. But the European Union in 2007, declared the use of that name in Alsace as illegal. The reason for this declaration was to avoid the bitter trade conflicts that may likely arise in the future as well as to prevent confusion with Tokaji wines from Hungary.

The Pinot Grigio wines produced in Alto Adige – Südtirol in northern Italy can readily negate the notion that every wine that comes with the “Grigio” label is simple and light. The floral and rich examples – i.e. the Oltradige and Bolzano – attest to this fact as well as the mineral-laden offerings from the Adige Valley.

The Pinot Gris grape variety is most prominent in the U.S., which is one of the New World wine regions around the world today. Oregon appears to lead the way, but California and Washington are catching up fast

But a wide range of styles – along with varying price points – can be had in New Zealand and this Pinot Gris is the third most-planted white grape in the independent country. Nevertheless, Pinot Gris grape represents only 6 percent of national wine production with 2 percent exported annually.

Wine labels always reflect the differentiation between the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris styles at all times.

Pinot Gris Synonyms

The following are synonyms of Pinot Gris:

  • Rulander
  • Grauklevner
  • Szurkebarat
  • Auxerrois Gris
  • Grauer Burgunder
  • Pinot Beurot
  • Grauburgunder

  • Fromenteau Gris
  • Sivi Pinot
  • Auvernat Gris
  • Grauer Riesling
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Malvoisie
  • Tokay d’Alsace (before 2007)

Distinctive Features of Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris shares striking similarities with Pinot Noir; the only difference is that the color of the skin of the Pinot Gris changes to gray when it is fully ripe.

In areas that are farther away to the south, this grayish color turns relatively dark. Pinot Gris comes with internodes with red stripes. Its young leaves are from dark to dark green.

They are also whole with three to five lobes along with a petiolar sinus that is relatively open or closed. The lobes also face each other in cockscomb kind of shape.

The bubble leaf blade has short teeth. There are flat-lying hairs on the underside of the leaf. Pinot Gris grapes are somewhat oblong or round.

But just like Pinot Noir variety, Pinot Gris bunches are compact, ranging from small to very small and in most cases, have no wings.

Pairing Pinot Gris with Foods

Pinot Gris works excellently when paired with seafood and white meats, especially in meals which include several fruits such as apricots, lemons, peaches, or oranges.

Other foods that pair remarkably well with Pinot Gris wine include:

  • Savory fish in cream sauce
  • Duck
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Chicken

All these can be had as your main course with Pinot Gris wine. You can also enjoy the alcoholic beverage with:

  • Grilled zucchini or sautéed greens
  • Zesty garlic-lemon broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

The best way to enjoy Pinot Gris wine is to serve it chilled at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alsace Pinot Gris wine may not be as fashionable as Pinot Grigio wine, but it has a more excellent quality-to-price ratio, which is quite impressive.

Pinot Grigio Wine

Many wine snobs from around the world still look down on Pinot Grigio, and this is because a few of them have been unlucky to come across a few ones that were badly processed. That being said, Pinot Grigio can be good, though it can be a bit challenging to find premium quality out there.

Pinot Grigio wines are known for their refreshing styles, and that is the primary reason why it has enjoyed raging success in numerous countries around the world, especially in the United States and Australia.

It was first launched in the United States sometime in the 1970s and rose from there to become one of the highest imported wines from Italy by the mid-1990s. These refreshing and savory offerings were direct opposites to the buttery, oaked-up – and often palate-fatiguing – wines out there that predominantly in the marketplace.

As Pinot Grigio became an instant success in the United States, more and more importers started bringing in a steady supply of the alcoholic beverage. And as demand surged, many producers began churning out sub-standard bottlings even in industrial quantities.

And so, over the last three decades, the quality of Pinot Grigio has steadily declined as producers struggle and did everything in their power to meet the ever-growing demand for the wine in the United States. This has led many producers to start planting vineyards on valley floors with a focus on high yields, not quality.

Pinot Grigio: The New Distinction

To curtail the massive influx of Italian plonk from low-altitude regions – which ultimately scared off perceptive drinkers – and to boost quality, Italy established a new and tightly-controlled regional categorization, Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie whose wines are endorsed by an independent commission.

These regions which include northwest and northwest of Venice, i.e. Alto Adige and Friuli respectively, produce some of the best wines from various vineyards on the slope.

The biggest news from this region, however, is that the plantings of the Pinot Grigio grape are rising faster than it is even anticipated. It has started ruling the white wine landscape of Oregon and is also far less expensive than Chardonnay.

Pinot Grigio wines are also relatively affordable since the grapes are easy to cultivate and harvest early so the wines can be ready to sell off sooner. And they are also not left to age in high-priced, new oak casks or barrels.

The typical descriptors of the style of this mutant wine are “crisp,” “dry,” and “light.” These characteristics are further complemented by blossoms, green apple, and lemon notes.

Pinot Grigio and Why It Tastes That Way

To achieve the popular Grigio style, the Pinot grapes are relatively harvested early to retain as much of its fresh acidity as possible. This is because this particular variety is known for its low acidity.

To retain the customary “zing,” and freshness, fermentation, as well as storage, mostly take place in stainless steel tanks instead of the usual barrels that are used for aging wine.

If barrels are used to age Pinot Grigio wine, it will result in a wine with added palate weight as well as sweet vanilla notes, and this will significantly detract from the usual clean and simple style. Moreover, this version of Pinot Grigio wine must be consumed within a year or two as extended cellaring will have no added advantage or be required for any reason.

The world epicenter of Pinot Grigio wine production remains Northern Italy, i.e. Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Venezia-Giulia. This region exports large quantities of Pinot Grigio wine every year, mostly to the United States and the United Kingdom.

However, it should be taken note of that there are myriads of examples of high-quality or premium wines from this particular region with texture and weight that can be compared to any Pinot Grigio bottling with perhaps, the possible exception of Alsace Grand Cru examples.

In several parts of Italy, the variety is employed for producing sparkling wines though is usually absent from the Italian republic’s most popular, Prosecco and the most serious sparkling style, Franciacorta.

Anywhere else around the world, it will be a huge mistake to rely on the distinction of these two names. This is why buyers are advised to take price into consideration if there is no other available information.

Some winemakers in the New World have taken it upon themselves to produce both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio which are usually marketed as food wines and aperitifs respectively.

Best Food Pairings with Pinot Grigio

Since Pinot Grigio is light-bodied and crisp, it is an excellent alcoholic beverage with foods like:

  • Mussels
  • Shellfish
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Oysters
  • Salads
  • Clams
  • Grilled shrimp
  • Light appetizers

Before a meal, you can take this wine with semi-soft or hard cheese. Take Parmigiano Reggiani and Gruyere cheeses with Pinot Gris wine. The acidity of the wine will not only tickle your palate but will also mix excellently well with the smoothness of the cheese.

A Pinot Grigio wine is the best choice for chilling with on the beach or lounging in the backyard of your home. Serve Pinot Grigio chilled at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

List of Popular Pinot Gris Wines

The following are some of the popular – and tasty – Pinot Gris wines in the market today. All these wines are excellent as a result of their balance as well as their quality. They are also relatively affordable and cost less than $25. They may appear cheap, but that does not mean they lack substance. They are topnotch wines that you must try today.:

  • 2009 Seven Hills Pinot Gris
  • 2005 Trimback Pinot Gris Reserve
  • 2007 Domaine Julien Meyer Pinot Gris Nature
  • 2009 Benton Lane Oregon Pinot Gris

List of Popular Pinot Grigio Wines

The following are some of the best Pinot Grigio wines you buy right now for your drinking pleasure. Most of them cost under $30, thus meaning that they are relatively affordable for the average wine enthusiast:

  • 2017 Venica Jesera Pinot Grigio Collio
  • 2016 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Porer
  • 2017 Kris Pinot Grigio delle Venezie IGT
  • 2017 Elena Walch Castel Ringberg Pinot Grigio
  • 2015 Bethel Heights Pinot Gris
  • 2017 Ponzi Pinot Gris
  • 2016 Greywacke Pinot Gris
  • 2017 Jules Taylor Pinot Gris

Common Technical Wine Terms You Should Know

There are some technical wine terms that you should know if you really want to enjoy the offerings in the wine universe. Knowing these terms will help you navigate from one variety of wine to another without getting lost.

It will also help you out whenever you visit the bar in another city or country and get to hear some of these terms as they are bandied about.

Therefore, take these technical wine terms and commit them to memory.

Varietal

“Varietal” works as both an adjective and a noun. As a noun, “varietal” denotes a wine that is exclusively or predominantly made from a single grape variety. As an adjective, the term is used to indicate those defining characteristics of vinos made from a specific grape variety, especially aroma and flavor.

As a result, this term is increasingly used – and misused – to mean “grape variety.”

Veraison

“Veraison” is not an English word but a French term that is employed in viticulture to depict the period in the growth cycle of the grapevine in which berries start changing their colors and become softer as well.

After flowering and during the early development stages of the bunch of grapes, all the grapes turn a herbaceous green color. During veraison, white grape varieties turn lighter and become transparent yellow while black grape varieties turn red instead.

This stage can take from one to two weeks since it depends significantly on climactic conditions in general and temperature in particular. Every berry changes its color at its own pace, though depending primarily on how soon or how late its flower was formed as well as its exposure to heat and sunlight.

Veraison usually occurs between late July and early August in the northern hemisphere while in the southern hemisphere, it takes place between late January and early February.

Most vintners consider veraison as the starting point of the maturation of wine grapes since sugars begin to accumulate in the pulp while tannins and color start to develop on the skins.

At this juncture, the grapes are under the watchful eyes of both the winemakers and viticulturists because it can influence or have an impact on the date of harvest, the ripening of the berry as well as the quality of the alcoholic beverage.

Varietal Labeling

“Varietal labeling” is the practice of labeling or naming a particular wine with the name of the grape that serves as its constituents, i.e. the grape with which it was made. Most varietal wines are usually required – by law – to contain a minimum of 85 percent of the grape variety that is stated on the label.

Vigor

This is a term that has to do with the vegetative development of the vine, which invariably depends on several factors including – but not limited to – the following:

  • The soil
  • The climate
  • The availability of water as well as nutrients
  • Vineyard practices
  • Length of the growing season

All these have a direct and significant impact on the quality of the fruits or grapes that are produced as both low and high vigor can severely affect the ability of the vine to transfer essential nutrients that are necessary to achieve premium fruit maturity.

Vitis vinifera

“Vitis vinifera” refers to the vine species that developed in Europe and is primarily responsible for most of the production of wine around the world today. This is why it is also usually referred to as the “common grapevine.”

It possesses excellent varietal properties or characteristics which makes it the #1 choice for topnotch wine production.

Vine training

Vine training is a method by which a canopy system can be established and manipulated such that the vine produces that desired quality – and quantity – of grapes. The following are the primary factors that influence or determine how a vine is trained:

  • Climatic conditions
  • Disease control
  • The degree of mechanization that is required

In several wine-producing regions across the world, vines are trained according to the local tradition that is practiced in the region. Notwithstanding, some areas have adopted vine training techniques and neglected that of their local customs.

Some of the modern vine training techniques include:

  • Geneva Double Curtain
  • Smart-Dyson
  • Sylvos

Vertical

The term “vertical” refers to a wine collection that comprises a variety of vintages in a single Cuvee. Verticals of a particular wine are often utilized in professional wine tastings to showcase the effects of bottle age as well as vintage variation.

Even though it is not particularly or readily clear which of these influences is the cause for the creation of a particular characteristic in wine, it is this uncertainty that adds to the aura and intrigue of vertical tastings.

Take note that a “vertical” is not, of necessity, made up of consecutive years. However, if the series is unbroken, then there is greater prestige. This, in most cases, applies to historic alcoholic beverages ranging from Bordeaux to burgundy as well as the Sauternes. Some verticals – such as the Chateau d’Yquem verticals – have been known to span over 125 years, making them worth several millions of dollars.

Wild yeast

Naturally occurring or ambient yeast that is used in the production of wine instead of a cultured yeast strain. Employing the use of wild yeasts comes with some benefits, but it also has a few disadvantages as well.

Wines fermented using wild yeast exhibit added complexity but most often lack consistency.

Wine of Origin

“Wine of Origin” refers to the wine law instituted for winegrowing areas in South Africa and consists of four different categories:

  • Geographic units – This refers to generic labeling terms like “Western Cape”, “Northern Cape”, etc.
  • Regions – This refers to large areas that encompass several districts like “Coastal Region,” etc.
  • District – Districts are usually within the Coastal Region, e.g. “Paarl.”
  • Wards – This is the smallest category, and an example is Constantia in the Cape Point district.

Yield

“Yield” is a term that denotes the total production of wine grapes from a vineyard or vine. But it could also refer to the total production of wine grapes from a particular region as a whole. It is related to vine vigor and often indicates the quality of the wine grapes. Exceptionally high yield is an excellent indication of low-quality grapes.

This has made some fine wine regions to clearly stipulate yield limits as part of the local appellation laws.

Yield can be measured in several ways, depending on geography. The most common units used to measure “Yield” are kgs/acre and ton/ha. Moreover, it is also common practice for some vintners to describe “Yield” in hl/ha, i.e. hectoliters/ha. This is a measure of the amount of wine that can be produced within a particular area.

Conclusion

As you can see, both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio grapes are the same. However, the method of production and regions where they are grown differs a lot.

And in this comparison article, despite the seeming popularity of Pinot Grigio wine, the real winner here is the Pinot Gris wine, thanks to its robust and fruitier taste as well as its ability to be paired with almost any type of food anywhere around the world.

So, go out there and join the millions of wine lovers who cherish their Pinot Gris wines at all times of the day!

Ben Holt

Ben practiced as a "Wine connoisseur" in the restaurant industry for over 2 years. He suggested, tested and educated diners on which wine would best fit their meal. Ben is also a freelance writer with over 4 years of experience. He now shares his insights on wine and wine accessories for those looking to take their love of this amazing beverage to the next level!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu