Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are two white wines made from the same grape, but through different methods. Grigio is picked earlier and thus tends to be drier and lighter, while the late-picked gris can be richer, spicier and fuller-bodied.
In the world of wine there’s perhaps no greater confusion amongst the public than that surrounding pinot grigio and pinot gris. Are they the same wine? Are they different? Is one name colloquial, the other formal?
The differences, once revealed, are actually quite straightforward. So let’s take a look at the whats, wheres, whens and hows of these two staple whites.
To grigio or to gris?
So what are the differences between these two wines, if any? The truth is that they are both made from exactly the same grape, thought to be a mutant clone of pinot noir. The differences stem mainly from when the grapes are harvested.
Pinot grigio is a wine of Italian origin. To create grigio you must first pluck the grape from the vine weeks earlier than you would gris. This early harvest imbues the final product with a lighter, drier and zestier flavour, making the wine a crowd-pleaser in summer.
Pinot gris is the French take on the wine. The French tended to pick their grapes weeks after the Italians, giving the wine an overt fruitiness that is unmistakable. The ripeness of the grape makes for a richer and spicier experience.
Where did you come from pinot grigio?
The grape from which these wines are made – which will be referred to by its Italian name pinot grigio for the sake of simplicity – has been known since the middle ages. A mutant clone of pinot noir, it is a lighter take on its origin grape, with fruit that can range from greyish-blue through to white. The first recorded mention of the variety was when it spread from the famed French wine-making region of Burgundy to Switzerland in the 13th century.
It was favoured by 14th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, but in reality the variety was relatively unknown for centuries, its scattered vines spread throughout medieval Europe. One of the reasons for this was its fickleness – most vintners saw its poor yields and unreliability as not worth the risk.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century, when German vine breeders were able to create hardier and greater yielding crops, that the grape’s reputation began to enhance. And only since the turn of the millennium has it truly come into its own, with a wealth of New World vintners creating their own takes on the classic French and Italian styles.