Summary: Pinot Gris from the Alsace region of France is typically bold, aromatic and full-bodied, usually dry to off-dry, showing peach, spice and flinty notes. Pinot Grigio from NE Italy offers a lighter side, with a crisp and clean expression that relies on citrus flavors.
We enjoy not only a wide world of wine, but also a wonderful world of cultures and languages. Thus, a number of varietals are spelled differently, depending on their origin. Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache/Garnacha and of course Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio are common examples. But spelling is often not the only point of departure. Stylistic differences often come into play, and this is quite true with Pinot Gris vs. Pinot Grigio.
Originally from France, Pinot Gris is technically not a variety but a clone of Pinot Noir that carries a color mutation. In Alsace, where in addition to small quantities of lush late harvest wines, Pinot Gris produces expressive, aromatic, smooth and full-bodied whites that are typically dry to off-dry. They often showcase notes of peach, ginger, spice, flinty smoke, earth and almonds. In Italy it’s a different story. Called Pinot Grigio, it is widely planted in northern and NE Italy. The focus here is usually to produce a crisp, refreshing, lighter style of wine. While there are regional differences of Pinot Grigio, the typical profile includes lemon, lime and subtle minerality.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio finds a home in many other lands as well. In Oregon it is typically called Pinot Gris, and in style it falls somewhere between the two poles of France and Italy. While typically crisp, it tends to have a bit more body than many Italian examples, and often includes white fruit notes like pear and apple along with citrus. In California both names are used, though Pinot Grigio is more common. Accordingly, most examples lean more toward the Italian approach of crisp and clean. New Zealand is also making a splash with Pinot Gris, where it takes the French name. These versions often lean more toward Alsace, with ripe pear, honeysuckle and spice components.
Gris and Grigio translate to “gray,” after the pink-gray appearance of the grapes. As we’ve seen, however, there is nothing dull and gray about its personality or potential. No matter where it’s made or what it’s called, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio produces many exciting styles.