To Gris or not to Grigio that is the Question

Is it Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? Good question, so today I will attempt to answer the age-old question, is it better to Gris or not to Grigio?

Shakespeare may have wondered aloud, “to be or not to be” and while many folks believe the old barge is merely contemplating life; whether to live or not to live would be better. I say that because he later considered, whether it would be better to suffer under the burden of riches or take up arms against his troubles.

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

Personally, I’d opt for the outrageous fortune [I do like the sound of that]. But no matter which side of the argument you're on, one thing is clear, one does not have to make any life-altering decisions in choosing Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, to that point there can be little argument.

Today’s post will also revolve around the beautiful grape variety that can be confusing to some and still to others it's all the same. But if you're curious as I was to find why the same grape has two different names and why does the same grape with different names bring with it two very different styles. Then stick around a bit as I attempt to give you the readers-digest version what is going on with this wildly popular grape.

Identity Crisis: I say Pinot Gris, and you say Pinot Grigio but hold on a minute, it’s not that simple. Some folk thinks it’s just "You say tomato, I say tomato" conversation. Technically they’re the same grape, but with different clones, climates and winemaking styles it would seem we have two completely different grapes. The truth is while they are the same grape; it’s also true they’re two different styles. So on the next trip to the wine-shop; it's a good idea to keep in mind these differences so you can make smart shopping and food pairing decisions.

Gris vs. Grigio: So what you will typically find is that in Italy and some producers here in California will label the bottle Pinot Grigio. While in Oregon and France's Alsace region it's known as Pinot Gris. Many other wine producing regions will use the terms interchangeably depending on the style. As you may have guessed the Pinot Grigio grape is, in essence, a white mutation of the very popular Pinot Noir grape, similar to what you find with the Sauvignon Blanc, which is partially responsible for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc on the other side of the coin.

Pinot Scoop: I want to help you keep your Pinot's straight, so please take note of this critical distinction; Pinot Blanc is not the same as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Pinot Blanc is a further mutation of the Pinot Noir grape and another story by itself, for another time.

Stylistic Differences: What you are going to find across the board is that most if not all the Pinot Grigio wines created in Italy tend to be typically dry [not sweet with low RS] and light, white flowers, almonds a mineral taste to it. On the flip side of the coin, [speaking in general terms] Californian variants of Pinot Grigio tend to be richer and lemony or citrusy in flavor, but still have good acid and refreshing minerality.

Now for our French friends and their New World counterparts in Oregon who label their bottles Pinot Gris [off-dry, higher RS] whose wines tend to come from the Alsace region, along with the German/French border. Of course with exceptions to every rule, allowing for variation. Some producers in Oregon make their PG in a dry style with very little [commonly referred to as RS] residual sugar.

While in Oregon PG can be found mostly from wineries of the Willamette Valley. Stylistically speaking of both regions, these wines are more fruity and flowery than their Italian counterparts; aromas can range from peach to grapefruit to melon, even though they are layered with rich mineral characteristics [often known as minerality].

What to Pair: These wines are such a wonderful alternative to 'California Chardonnay', and many are very inexpensive. You’ll often find Pinot Grigio pairs well with a large variety of light or mild-flavored dishes that are still on the "thick" side of the equation. For example; chicken in a rich white-wine sauce holds its own nicely against more vibrant flavors. But for many [myself included], light dishes like Clams, Mussels and Oysters are the perfect pairing partners with Pinot Grigio.

Conversely, if you find yourself in a spicy situation food wise, just adjust your choice a little and grab yourself some Alsatian Pinot Gris, that RS [residual sugar levels vary] will put the fire out. While the acidity will refresh your palate clearing the way like a cleansing rinse, allowing all those bright, spicy flavors to come through again and again.

Whichever style you choose, remember they’re best served chilled or kept in a cool sleeve to maximize your enjoyment [look for that sweet spot cellar temperature of 57 degrees] and in my opinion even more so with Pinot Grigio, because as it warms it quickly loses its appeal.

If you want to explore these two [2] styles further, I'd recommend you do so via purchasing the four bottles I've listed below. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites [four great wines] I would like to recommend to you, which I know will help you see the differences quickly; the contrast will be night and day.

1. Schoffit Pinot Gris Rangen Clos Saint Theobald

[This one will cost you a pretty penny, but it’s well worth the price of admission]

2. Willakenzie Estate Oregon Pinot Gris

3. Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio

4. Attems Pinot Grigio


Great post Bill. Good info & awesome Reccommends! Cheers!
Beau said…
Nice job Bill, way to take a relatively complex topic and make it readable. One thing though, up here in Oregon, there are some Gris' with RS but an equal or greater amount fermented completely dry. It's important to avoid generalizing about things like residual sugar. :)
Will Eyer said…
Thanks Beau, It's so funny; I see too many folks in the stores where I work scratching their noggins wondering aloud about the differences between the two styles. That's what promted me to write this in the first place.

Good of you to point out the PG's being produced completely dry, I had hoped to stay away from crass generalizations, I know some folks are sensitive about the subject. It's good to know there's a good selection of bone-dry styles of PG readily avaiable from the many wonderful producers in Oregon.

But in my experience, in the broader markets, the average vino-sapien will most likely encounter Gris with low to medium plus RS far more often than the alternative.



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