Dave Eckert, a feature writer for The Kansas City Star, recently urged readers to broaden their wine sampling with ten white wines that offering crisp, refreshing flavors in the heat of summer, and Pinot Grigio dominated the list, with several suggestions.
Perhaps more surprising? Pinot Noir was on that list too, albeit in a much more subtle way.
On a list of crisp, white wines, Pinot Noir made an appearance in a bottle of Brut sparkling wine blend from California.
Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio also made a side by side appearance on another wine suggestion list for this summer, this one by Miren Gonzalez, writer for The Independent. With an emphasis on those not as accustomed to wine, the feature was meant to offer classic, signature flavors to please a wide variety of consumers.
Finally, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio also made an appearance on Ask Men featuring the best single serve wines of the summer. Once again, Pinot Grigio was featured as a single variety wine, and as a fresh, crisp summer offering, while Pinot Noir made an appearance in a wine blend.
But while both Pinot Noir and Grigio are often featured for refreshing and approachable wines, rarely are they directly compared. While many may have heard or Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio in passing, or perhaps both of them when it comes to Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio many simply do not know the difference.
If you’re one of those people, or even if you have a general idea and aren’t sure which wine is most suited for you, read on.
This article will see how Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio stack up directly compared, and how to find the best variety of each. At the conclusion of this article, we’ll even give you a few wine suggestions that you can easily purchase at a reasonable price.
What does the term ‘Pinot’ mean?
One reason these two wines may get confused is simple–they sound alike. The term Pinot originates from the French word for pine cone. That term is suiting because Pinot grapes tend to bunch up in a shape similar to a pinecone on vines as they grow and mature.
Pinto grapes come in a great variety, and not only are they related; many varieties are quite closely connected through DNA.
While there are three main varieties most are accustomed to, there are actually over a thousand different varieties of Pinot grapes. In fact, that figure only accounts for those that are officially registered, which means there are likely even more in existence.
Among many of them, the differences are so subtle that only a true expert would be able to detect them. For the purposes of this article, and wine drinking in general, we’ll focus on the three most well-known varieties:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
- Pinot Blanc
In some instances, these grapes are so closely related that the only component to account for their differences is a tiny mutation on their DNA. Every variety of Pinot grapes are direct offspring from the original Pinot plant.
So as prized as many Pinots are, they are all essentially genetic mutations of an original. That isn’t to say it is a bad thing. In fact, these small mutations have made it possible to produce wine with unique characteristics and truly enriched the wine world for it.
Is the term Pinot Gris interchangeable with Pinot Grigio?
Technically, yes. A lot of confusion may arise from these two terms, and understandably so, yet both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio actually refer to the same grape variety.
Pinot Gris is what the grape is called in France, while the term Pinot Grigio is used in Italy. As such, when we are discussing Pinot Grigio, we are technically referring to a Northern Italian vs French wine.
There are some noticeable differences in characteristics between the two, due to climate, soil and production techniques:
- Pinot Gris tends to be a bit softer, with touches of honey and a smooth more plump feel.
- Italian Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is a bit more sharply acidic with bitter almond undertones.
Technically there is also American Pinot Grigio. While most close to Italian Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris from France, American Pinot Grigio tends to be a bit less tart and more fruit-forward.
What is the history of the Pinot vine?
Pinot wines are considered ancient, with some estimates dating as far back as the first century. It’s unclear how and when all the genetic mutations came to be, but Pinot plants have certainly been around for a while.
- Pinot Noir was thought to first be consumed by the Romans in Gaul, in regions that are today modern France. Much of Pinot Noir’s popularity stems from Catholicism. Monks used Pinot Noir in particular for practicing sacraments, and the drink later caught the public attention.
- Pinot Noir especially took root in Burgundy. In 1395, under the reign of Duke Philippe, the other wine being grown in the Burgundy region, Gamay, was officially banned. There were not as many options for grape varieties, because Burgundy was not on a major trade route. Thus Pinot Noir was favored over wines like Champagne (which were also seen as too connected by popular culture).
- W2The reputation of Pinot Noir as a fine wine was established, and eventually, the grape was planted in the Americas, as well as New Zealand and Australia.
- Pinot Grigio may have a reputation for originating in Italy, but like its close relative Pinot Noir, it too originated in France. The wine was first thought to have been noted in the 1300s and originated in Burgundy, but unlike Pinot Noir, it next was planted in Switzerland, as known to be beloved especially by the Emperor of the time. From there, Pinot Grigio eventually spread to Italy.
- Though Pinot Grigio originated where Pinot Noir did, it does not owe its fame to France. Instead, Pinot Grigio became most well known after it was planted and spread in Italy, hence why many think it is innately Italian. Pinot Grigio in particular spread to Northeastern Italy, where it grew enough in popularity to become the most popular wine in the country.
How popular is Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio?
Pinot Noir to this day is an acclaimed and well-regarded wine, constituting around two hundred and ninety thousand acres of vineyards worldwide ( around one hundred and ten thousand hectares), seventy-five thousand of which are in France, followed by seventy-three thousand in the United States, just under thirty thousand in Germany and around ten thousand in New Zealand.
Pinot Noir also happens to be the ninth most planted grape variety worldwide.
In terms of sales, it’s a bit hard to say, as Pinot Noir can so often be found in wine blends, while Pinot Grigio is often the main wine or the solo wine. What is clear is that it is among the most recognizable wines, in part also thanks to the feature film Sideways where the main character praised Pinot Noir. In the immediate after, sales climbed one hundred and sixty percent, compared with an increase of sixteen percent for some overall.
Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, by comparison, accounts for around fifteen thousand hectares worldwide, about one-seventh of Pinot Noir.
Argentina, Austria, and France are major growing regions in addition to Italy.
Since the mid-1990s it has found prominence in the United States, though more modest and slow than Pinot Noir. The largest organic vineyard for Pinot Gris can be found in the United States, and now Pinot Gris is produced in locations as varied as California, Oregon, and even parts of Ohio.
What are the main differences between Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio?
Of course, interesting and perhaps as helpful as it may be to discuss some of the differences in history, location, and prestige between Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio, what we really need to discuss is the qualities when compared that will help you decide between the two.
We’ll cover differences but also any similarities so you know everything you need to know when deciding between Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio.
For the purposes of this article, we will be discussing mostly Pinot Grigio as opposed to Pinot Gris, though keep in mind they do have the general range of same fruit flavors
How can you tell Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir apart visually?
Pinot Noir is a light, nearly clear red wine, often described as a light red berry to pale ruby, and a shade or two lighter than Tempranillo.
How does Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir compare in terms of acidity?
Pinot Grigio is noted for pronounced, often quite high, crisp and bold acidity (Pinot Gris and American Pinot Grigio have softer, medium levels of acidity but still very much present). Pinot Noir is actually also noticeable in acidity, though because it is a red wine, the acidity is a bit less noticeable. Both are considered more crisp wines, but it does vary based upon specific climate.
What about levels of tannins?
Tannins provide an astringent, drying sensation and also add texture to the wine. For red wine, Pinot Noir is rather light in tannins, and Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are inherently low in tannins because they are white wines. While Pinot Noir, like red wine, will naturally have a bit more pronounced tannins, the level of tannins ranges from light to heavier, depending on aging and the specific variety. Many describe the typical tannins in Pinot Noir as silky but present.
What about the body?
Wine body, or the mouthful sensation as you drink, is another area where Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio overlap. Pinot Noir is among the lightest bodied red wines, fuller than only something like Gamay.
Pinot Grigio/Gris ranges from light to medium body wine, depending on the specific variety. Italian Grigio is among the lightest, for a clean, crisp taste, while both French and American styles tend to be fuller medium to the medium body are a bit less crisp and more smooth.
What are the main flavor notes?
Besides Pinot Noir being red wine and Pinot Gris/Grigio being a white wine, there are also obvious differences when it comes to prominent flavors.
Pinot Noir excels in light and playful red berry notes, notably cherries, raspberries, and bright cranberries. With aging comes vanilla and caramel accents. Clove, licorice, and even smokier tobacco are present in some varieties.
Pinot Grigio (and Pinot Gris) instead of features bright citrus with a bit more zest to it, with common flavor notes including ripe nectarine and Meyer lemon, and more subtle lime and green apple. French Gris adds a touch of sweeter honey notes; Italian Grigio has bitter almond accents, and American Grigio is a bit more fruity.
What food does Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio pair best with?
Another easy way to decide between Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio is what food you’re serving, as food pairings are very much based upon the individual characteristics of the wine in question.
Pinot Noir is considered a fairly versatile wine when it comes to pairing with food. Aged Pinot Noir, which is more layered and complex, pairs nicely with light meat, such as chicken but even some pork, and also fattier fish, such as salmon. The boldest Pinot Noir, with darker cherry notes, can stretch to pair with stronger meats such as duck. Pinot Noir can even be paired with cheese trays, at its lightest and most crisp.
Pinot Gris/ Grigio is actually also considered a fairly amiable wine to pair food with. Medium-full body Pinot Gris from France can be almost creamy and thus pair well with cream-based dishes, fattier fish, and chicken. Medium Pinot Gris can be served with shrimp, lobster, and white fish, while the crispest and light Pinot Grigio works best with the lightest seafood.
Is Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris/Grigio more expensive?
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio/Gris have a range of prices, with the cheapest bottles starting around ten dollars. Pinot Noir has a larger range of prices, with some very pricy bottles. On average, a good bottle of Pinot Noir costs more than a bottle of Pinot Gris/Grigio, though both have a range of mid-priced options.
What about the level of sweetness?
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio tend to be produced as dry wines. Pinot Gris, due to light touches of honey notes, tends to have a touch of sweetness, which can even come off as almost off-dry.
Also of note, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio can be made as sparkling wines.
Can you summarize the differences between Pinot Noir vs Pinot Gris/Grigio?
In summary, when compared, there are a number of differences, but also a few similarities between Pinot Noir vs Pinot Gris/Grigio. While both tend to be more light, refreshing wines with distinct acidity, both also can be more complex and more smooth, depending on climate. Both shy away from mineral or earthy or exceptionally deep notes.
Pinot Noir as red wine, is fruit-forward and crisp to richer, with fresh berry notes. Overall, Pinot Gris and Grigio is a more crisp and citrus-based wine, more suited to light seafood dishes. Pinot Noir can be paired with seafood, but aged Pinot Noir does best with light meat and even cheese. Both are suited, at their richer forms, with creamy dishes and pasta.
Do you have any suggestions for Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio I can try?
For both, we’ll offer two main varieties; depending on if you want a lighter, more crisp wine vs a slightly more creamy finish.
- For a complex, French Pinot Noir, try Domaine Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 2014. This French Pinot Noir exhibits the qualities of fine wine at its more complex and rich side, while still exhibiting bright notes Pinot Noir is known for. A darker ruby in hue, flavor notes include classic red raspberries, plums, and ample acidity but richer undertones and present but gentle tannins.
- For a bright and lively Pinot Noir, try Buena Vista North Coast Pinot Noir 2015. A modestly priced American Pinot Noir exhibits ripe red fruity, mingling with baking spices like cinnamon and clove for a spirited and light-hearted option.
- For a richer and creamer Pinot (Gris) try Albert Boxler Pinot Gris 2016. From France, this Pinot Gris is a bit more complex and features classic citrus notes but with touches of sweetness for an off-dry experience and more lush finish.
- For a refreshing and vibrant Pinot Grigio, try Elena Walch Selezione Pinot Grigio 2018. Ripe pears are the main highlight, with just a bit of richer undertones for a balanced and still refreshing Pinot Grigio option.