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Gris and Grigio, please explain!

Pinot Gris Pinot Grigio

Question from Steph: I always get confused when I am ordering Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. They seem quite similar to me but what’s the difference?

In a nut shell – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the exact same grape variety but it’s the way they are made that’s different.

In a clam shell – How confusing is it when you’re looking at a wine list with a Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio option! What to do, what to do?!?

Pinot Gris is traditionally from Alsace in France (although it’s made everywhere else now too). Alsace is in the north east, on the boarder of France and Germany. Although Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio the way the wine is made is very different. In Alsace, a traditional Pinot Gris is full-bodied (relatively thick), dry, medium or sweet (depending on who is making the wine) but will have spicy tropical flavours. Imagine banana, melon, ginger and honey. Yum yum!

Pinot Grigio on the other hand is traditionally from Italy with the best Pinot Grigios coming from Trentino and Fruili (up north). Pinot Grigio is always dry (think Sauvignon Blanc) and it’s light to medium in body (thin, water-like and easy to drink). It has medium acidity (so a little of that refreshing mouth-watering feeling when you sip it but not as much as if you’d sucked on a lemon) and it will have neutral flavours so think those similar to Sauvignon Blanc like green apples, lemon and lime.

So if the world was a perfect place and everyone played by the rules you would assume that your glass of Pinot Grigio would be dry, crisp and refreshing and not too complicated while your Pinot Gris would be a little thicker, quite possibly sweeter and a little more complex in flavour.

But now this is where it gets muddy. In theory, Australia should play by these rules but we don’t (naughty, naughty) and there are no laws to enforce this (like there are in Europe). So depending on who is making the wine, and probably whether they prefer a Gris or a Grigio, what ends up in your glass is anyone’s guess.

It’s a gamble so if you’re buying an Australian Pinot Gris or Grigio be prepared for any of the above. ‘It may be a little sweet, it may be bone dry. It may have a little oak, but, by rights, should have none. It may be succulent in flavour and texture, or oily and bitter, or thin, hard or chalky. It may be white, yellow, bronze-copper or delicately pink. It may be very good or very bad’, well said by James Halliday and Hugh Johnson in The Art and Science of Wine.

Want my advice? If you don’t want to take the gamble or dislike the traditional style of either a Gris or Grigio your best bet would be to stick to European varieties. Drink a Pinot Gris from France (preferably Alsace) and stick to Pinot Grigio from Italy. Now, at least someone is playing by the rules.


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