Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for Pinot Gris, a white mutation of the Pinot family. It shares its genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and several other varieties. The term Pinot Grigio has become strongly associated with light bodied wines produced in great quantities, particularly in northern Italy.
The wines are most commonly described as dry white wines with relatively high acidity. These characteristics are complemented by aromas of lemon, lime, green apple and blossoms.
This "everyday" Grigio Italian style is achieved firstly by harvesting the grapes relatively early. This is done in an attempt to retain as much fresh acidity as possible. Otherwise the variety is naturally quite low in acidity. In a hot summer, the picking date is particularly important.
Early harvests can also have a clear impact on color. As Pinot Gris/Grigio ripens it can take on a pinkish color. Wines made from riper grapes can be much more golden.
To retain freshness and "zing", fermentation and storage typically take place in stainless steel tanks. If barrels were used, this would add palate weight and sweet vanilla aromas. This would detract significantly from the clean, simple style, and also raise costs. This type of Pinot Grigio wine is almost always intended for consumption within a year or two of harvest. Extended cellaring is neither required nor advisable.
Northeastern Italy (Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige) is the Pinot Grigio producing heartland. The region exports vast quantities of the wine each year, mostly to the United Kingdom and US.
However, it should be noted that there are also plenty of examples of premium wines from this region. These can achieve a weight and texture comparable to almost any Pinot Gris bottling. The very best wines can get close to the quality of Alsace Grand Cru wines.
In many parts of Italy, the variety is used to make frizzante (semi sparkling) or spumante (sparkling) wines. But it is notably absent from the nation's most serious sparkling style, Franciacorta (where Pinot Bianco is allowed). Meanwhile the most popular, Prosecco, can only feature up to 15 percent Pinot Grigio against 85 percent Glera.
Also, Pinot Grigio is rarely the base of sweeter or dessert wines in Italy. Medium or sweet Pinot Gris is more associated with Alsace, and on a much smaller scale with New Zealand.
Pinot Grigio outside Italy
However, away from Italy the distinction between the two names cannot be relied upon with absolute confidence. Price should be taken into consideration by purchasers if no other information is available. An everyday price may infer an eary picked light bodied wine.
Some wineries in the New World have chosen to produce both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris wines. These are usually marketed respectively as aperitifs and food wines.
Synonyms include: Pinot Gris.
Food matches for Pinot Grigio include:
- Goat cheese, rocket & walnut salad
- Crispy garlic and chili prawns
- Grilled green-lipped mussels