Pinot Grigio is a white wine varietal grown most famously in the northeastern region Alto Adige in Italy. Known for their light, crisp, dry style, Pinot Grigio is grown all over the globe,...Read More
The second most popular white wine among American consumers and a staple of restaurant beverage lists far and wide, you have no doubt heard about Pinot Grigio or seen it for sale at your local wine store. The grape behind this wine was born in Burgundy from a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir and is named after its distinctive blue-gray skin, a peculiarity among white grape varieties.
The wine is called Pinot Gris when produced in France (or abroad) to make a fuller, more complex, more fruit-forward style. It is Grigio when produced in Italy (or abroad) in a leaner, lighter and more citrussy style. For some time, Pinot Grigio fell victim to its success, with high demand leading to the mass production of low-quality versions. It fell out of favor with the most unforgiving of wine connoisseurs, sommeliers and trend setters. But there are plenty of winemakers out there “fighting the good fight” to produce world-class “Greej” around the world. At their best, these wines have so much to offer: an airy light texture, mouthwatering acidity, mineral elegance and bright flavors of lemon, lime and green apple. Serve them chilled on a hot summer day, or pair them year-round with equally bright and zesty dishes: briny olives, chicken piccata or shrimp scampi.
Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the Pinot Gris grape, a mutant of Pinot Noir believed to have originated in the Burgundy region of France. Its name, meaning “gray Pinot” comes from its morphology: while most white grapes have green skins, these have a greyish blue color. Records show that this grape was used to produce wine here, under the name Fromenteau, as far back as the Middle Ages. During the 1300’s, the grape spread to Switzerland and Hungary, where it is locally known as Szurkebarat (meaning “gray monk”). In the 1700’s, a German merchant named Johann Seger Ruland brought the grape to Germany, where it quickly gained popularity.
Rather early on, the Pinot Grigio grape also spread to northern Italy, where it was adopted by wine producers in the wine regions of Trentino – Alto Adige, Friuli – Venezia Giulia and Veneto. It was in northeastern Italy that the Pinot Grigio style that we know and love today was born. This wine grape is today grown around the world, including in the United States and Australia. Labelling the wine “Pinot Grigio” denotes that the wine is produced in the Italian style, rather than the French “Pinot Gris” style. Although the boom in popularity of and demand for this white wine style (particularly amongst consumers in the United States) has led to the mass production of low-quality Pinot Grigio, there are many producers “fighting the good fight” and producing wonderful versions of this wine.
Although Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are technically the same grape variety, the two names denote two very different styles. The latter, the most representative version of which is produced in the Alsace region of France, is a wine with a higher concentration of fruit, more body, higher alcohol and less acidity, with signature aromas of honey and ginger, along with ripe yellow apples, peaches and ripe pears. This style can also be produced as a sweet dessert wine and can be aged in large oak vessels.
In contrast, the Pinot Grigio style is one characterized by a light body, higher acid, lower alcohol and bright aromas of lemon, lime and green apples, along with a mineral, saline quality. It is usually vinified and stored in stainless steel rather than oak to avoid oxidation, and intended for early consumption. Pinot Grigio is popular for its zesty, lean and refreshing profile, serving as the perfect summertime sipper on a warm day.
Pinot Grigio is by far the most popular white wine of Italy, where it is grown mostly in the northeastern regions. High-volume and inexpensive Pinot Grigio is produced in some of the flatter vineyards at lower elevations in the Veneto area, where the grapes are harvested early to retain acidity. Nevertheless, Veneto is also home to some higher quality producers. Most premium Pinot Grigio comes from the mountainous landscapes of Trentino – Alto Adige, where a higher altitude allows the fruit to retain its natural acidity and the harvest to take place a bit later in the season. Fantastic produces in this region include Elena Walch, Alois Lageder and Santa Margherita. Producers like Kris in Friuli – Venezia Giulia have also produced very lively and fresh wines from this variety.
The lean, dry and citrussy Pinot Grigio style is also popular among producers in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Chile, Australia and Canada. In the United States, it is affectionately nicknamed “Greej” and cultivated by quality-focused producers like Channing Daughters in the Long Island region of New York state.
Pinot Grigio wines are primarily produced in a simple, crisp style, without any oak. They have light to medium-minus body, medium-plus to high acidity and medium alcohol. This is a refreshing dry white wine best consumed in its youth and chilled before tasting. Their high acidity and flavors of fresh citrus, green apples and flowers will allow them to pair with equally lemony and bright dishes, like salty olives, chicken piccata or shrimp scampi. The best Pinot Grigio wines also have a characteristic minerality and salinity, making them the perfect pairing to fresh seafood dishes, especially oysters.