Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are two white wines made from the same grape, but through different methods. Grigio is picked earlier and thus tends to be drier and lighter, while the late-picked gris can be richer, spicier and fuller-bodied.

In the world of wine there’s perhaps no greater confusion amongst the public than that surrounding pinot grigio and pinot gris. Are they the same wine? Are they different? Is one name colloquial, the other formal? The differences, once revealed, are actually quite straightforward. So let’s take a look at the whats, wheres, whens and hows of these two staple whites.

To grigio or to gris?

So what are the differences between these two wines, if any? The truth is that they are both made from exactly the same grape, thought to be a mutant clone of pinot noir. The differences stem mainly from when the grapes are harvested. 

Pinot grigio is a wine of Italian origin. To create grigio you must first pluck the grape from the vine weeks earlier than you would gris. This early harvest imbues the final product with a lighter, drier and zestier flavour, making the wine a crowd-pleaser in summer. 

Pinot gris is the French take on the wine. The French tended to pick their grapes weeks after the Italians, giving the wine an overt fruitiness that is unmistakable. The ripeness of the grape makes for a richer and spicier experience.

Where did you come from pinot grigio? 

The grape from which these wines are made – which will be referred to by its Italian name pinot grigio for the sake of simplicity – has been known since the middle ages. A mutant clone of pinot noir, it is a lighter take on its origin grape, with fruit that can range from greyish-blue through to white. The first recorded mention of the variety was when it spread from the famed French wine-making region of Burgundy to Switzerland in the 13th century. 

It was favoured by 14th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, but in reality the variety was relatively unknown for centuries, its scattered vines spread throughout medieval Europe. One of the reasons for this was its fickleness – most vintners saw its poor yields and unreliability as not worth the risk. 

It wasn’t until the mid-20th century, when German vine breeders were able to create hardier and greater yielding crops, that the grape’s reputation began to enhance. And only since the turn of the millennium has it truly come into its own, with a wealth of New World vintners creating their own takes on the classic French and Italian styles.

 

''While the variety was one of the original vines that the father of Australian viticulture, James Busby, brought to our shores in 1832, it wasn’t deemed worth the effort by Australian winemakers. But as hardier varieties began to be bred through the 20th century, interest began to pique.'' 

A latecomer down under 

Plantings of the grape began in earnest in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until after 2000 that production really began to gather steam. The Mornington Peninsula was the pinot grigio/gris trendsetter, with T’Gallant considered the variety’s pioneer down under. In the new millennium the wine has gone from strength to strength, and now Australia devotes more acreage to the variety than its spiritual home of France.

Made to taste 

When tasting pinot grigio and pinot gris it’s important to think of the wines as a spectrum. While pinot grigio will sit towards the unripened end and pinot gris toward ripened, there is a large amount of grey in between. Because the crossover is not clearly demarcated, the tastes of the two wines are often interchangeable. In fact, in Australia at least, many wineries label their pinot grigio and pinot gris at the direction of a sommelier, rather than when the grapes were picked from the vine. 

That aside, both wines deliver a spiciness and acidity that has become their trademark. You can expect more lime and green apple flavours from the earlier-picked grigio, while the later-picked gris will offer nectarine, pear and even some faint honey notes.

Pinot gris/grigio titbits

  • A mutation of the pinot noir grape, pinot grigio fruit is actually red-skinned! Unlike reds and rosé which are fermented with the skins, pinot grigio skins are removed from the process after pressing.

  • Pinot grigio is one of the earliest maturing grapes, and will be the first harvested for most vineyards in which it is planted.

  • Want a world-leading pinot gris experience? Try a drop from the famed Alsace region of France, where pinot gris is considered one of the noble grapes.

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