Don’t we all just love the confusing labels and varietals? Syrah/Shiraz; Muscat/Muscato; It seems like it never ends sometimes. It’s no wonder wine is so confusing and intimidating to everyone. I feel your pain. I do.
It was only about a month ago that I was half paying attention and grabbed a bottle labeled “Pinot Grigio” without noticing it came from a winery in Napa, and I was stupified when I opened the bottle. It’s not that it wasn’t good, but it wasn’t the Pinot Grigio I had been looking forward too all day. It was heavier, more perfumey and more full. It was more like a Pinot Gris. Not only that but I thought “How is this Pinot Grigio if it’s American? Pinot Grigio is Italian. HUH?”
That experience made me delve into the issue of Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris because here’s what can be confusing – it’s the exact same grape. Pinot Grigio IS the Pinot Gris grape. I had known this all along, but I had never been faced with an American bottle of Pinot Grigio. Usually any wine that is Pinot Gris is labeled as such with the exception of Italy which calls it “Pinot Grigio”. I looked at it like it was a freak unicorn with two heads. Although these two wines are the exact same grape, they are quite different from one another on many levels.
Pinot Grigio is made from pinto gris grapes grown in Italy and has a very distinctive style; Usually one that is light, crispy and fresh with a vibrant stone finish. It reminds me of biting into a fresh green apple. It is also best served with lighter fare grilled fish, shrimp and salads.
Pinot Gris, on the other hand, is heavier with more richness and hails from France with most of it being produced in Alsace (my absolute fave wine region for Riesling and Gewürztraminer btw). It is best paired with richer foods such as stews, chicken casseroles and hard cheeses.
Although Pinot Gris is grown all over the world today, Italy is the boss of this grape because it is the Italians that made this once not-so-popular grape into a world-wide sensation.
So going back to my original confusion that evening (bringing this back full circle) – How is an American winery billing a wine as a Pinot Grigio when it’s clearly not Italian? Most likely because it’s the Pinot Grigio style the winemaker was going for – lighter and crispier as opposed to the Pinot Gris style of heavier and richer. And that’s basically it.
If all varietals tasted the same regardless of where they were grown then there would not be hundreds, if not thousands, of taste profiles of wines. The taste starts with the soil and blossoms outward. Although the style was meant to be the Italian Pinot Grigio style, it wasn’t 100% and can never be. The taste of Pinot Grigio even changes depending on what region of Italy it’s made in because of soil and weather differences.
Just like any other wine, finding your personal style is going to be key when purchasing. I personally enjoy Pinot Grigio over Pinot Gris because my white wine style is lighter and stoney with more minerality. And as I discovered this eye-opening evening, I prefer my Pinot Grigio to come directly from Italy.
If you’ve tried both I would love to hear your style and which you prefer! Both are wonderful in their unique way.