Confusion often clouds the distinction between the white wines pinot gris and pinot grigio. Both are known as summer wines and often paired with lighter foods or used in cooking as a flavor enhancement to delicate foods like fish. Essentially, they are both from the same grape but named differently depending upon where they are produced. Despite the wines’ identical raw material, wine aficionados would argue they are two completely different wines that vary greatly in everything from color to taste.
Same Grape Variety
Pinot gris and pinot grigio are the same type of grape, which is a mutated clone of the pinot noir grape. “Pinot” means “pinecone” in French and “gris” means “grey.” These words describe the plump, cone-shaped, grayish-blue grape clusters from this branch of the Vitis vinifera family. The cloned grapes, however, can vary in color from silver-blue to ash-yellow. In terms of wine flavor they range from citrus to honey to smoky. Generally, the wine colors are pale to golden yellow.
Pinot Gris Geography
Pinot gris primarily comes from the Alsace region of France (where it is also known as Tokay d’Alsace). The cool climate and unique soils are perfect for producing strong, complex flavors in the wine that can often hold its own against many foods. They also grow in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Australia and New Zealand. Since the early 1980s, Oregon has also produced its variation on pinot gris.
Pinot Gris Distinctions
In terms of flavor, pinot gris is often rich and medium- to full-bodied with a floral hint. Alsatian pinot gris in particular is a bit more spicy and smoky than its German counterpart, which has a more equal balance of acidity and sweetness. Oregon pinot gris also presents a more aromatic flavor with a distinct taste of apples, pears or melons, and it can exhibit a color range from pale yellow to copper-pink.
Pinot Grigio Geography
Pinot grigio, again from the same grape as the pinot gris, is essentially the Italian version. It hails from Alto-Adige, Veneto and Friuli regions of Italy. It is also grown extensively in California, predominantly in the central and south coastal vineyards of the state.
Pinot Grigio Distinctions
Pinot grigio from Italy has a lean, dry, crisp, light-bodied flavor. It is very light in color, resembling pale-yellow straw. California pinot grigio is medium-bodied and has a slight spiciness to it. It has an overall smoothness and ends with a very clean, short finish.
Due to the lightness of both the pinot gris and pinot grigio, these white wines are often enjoyed during the spring and summer. As a general rule, they are paired with “white meat” such as chicken and seafood. However, they are not recommended for citric or highly acidic foods like tomato sauce, though they go well with cheese.
Ideally, these white wines should be served chilled at 45 degrees Fahrenheit and kept chilled throughout the meal. Glasses also make a huge difference in fully appreciating the flavors. Unlike red wines, which are served in a round glass, white wine glasses are narrow and taper at the top, which offers a better concentration of the delicate flavors in white wines.