Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are two names fotr the same grape variety. The Pinot Gris of France became the Pinot Grigio of Italy when it was planted there. Although they are the same grape they are referred to as being associated with different styles of wine. Pinot Gris is used in the Alsace region of France and, also in Oregon. In California, Australia, and Italy the wine is referred to as Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Gris/ Grigio is a wine that does not get much respect. It is known by many as a quaffer that is generally sold by the glass on restaurant wine lists, with the bottle selections some of the slowest selling on the page. As often as the more quality focused wines are overlooked most people really do enjoy them, and generally admit that they forget about the nicer wines in lieu of a different variety.
Admittedly, the wines that are sold by the glass are extremely light not showcasing brilliant fruit flavors, and other varieties can be packed full of flavor. Pinot Gris/ Grigio is a lighter style of wine by design. It has characteristic aromas and flavors of apple, lemon, peach, minerals, and almonds. The acidity can be low to high depending on where it is grown.
In Alsace, Pinot Gris is at home where it has been grown since the 1500's. France produces more Pinot Gris than any other country. The grapes ripen slowly and maintain good acidity due to a large diurnal temperature swing. Alsace is cool, but the vines are bathed in sunshine allowing the grapes to ripen slowly developing more complex aromatics. The style of wine is richer and sometimes floral with a medium to full body, and an almost oily texture. The wines can be very long lived.
Oregon Pinot Gris is styled after Alsace, and is also a cool marginal climate for viticulture. Since Pinot Gris is an early ripening variety it matches the shorter growing season in Oregon. The wines here can be a darker color of copper pink with crisp lively flavors of melon, pear, and apple. When allowed to hang on the vines longer the wines are richer and sweeter. These wines are a great alternative to Chardonnay. Here the wine should be drank within 2 to 6 years.
Another popular growing region is Italy. Here Pinot Grigio is grown in the northeastern areas of Friuli, Trentino- Alto Adige, and Veneto. The wines tend to be more mineral driven thanks to heavy concentrations of limestone soils where the vines are mostly planted. The wines show light and lean with light color, and the better areas developing more complexity and minerality from the grapes.
Then we have California. Here the wines ae generally light and sometimes showing a touch sweeter with lower levels of acid. These are not usually designated to the better sites and can rarely show much complexity. Most often mass produced and sold at a relatively low price.
Lastly, there is Germany's Grauer Burgunder (AKA Pinot Grigio), which represents a sleeker and drier style allowing the wine to be more compatible with food.
Whether it be Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris the styles can represent different aromatics and textural sensations when enjoyed. Although the flavors can be relatively close there is more to this wine than simple patio sippers. If you enjoy Pinot Grigio I would recommend an Alsatian or Oregon Pinot Gris to really experience what this grape is capable of producing. All Pinot Grigio wines will be to a certain extent lighter in style, and are great accompaniments to salads and lighter seafood dishes. The wines are most often fermented in stainless steel at cool temperatures to allow the fruit to stay fresh and the wine to remain crisp. Either way, this white wine is sure to please in the heat of the summer.