Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris, can produce far more complex wines than it often gets credit for.
Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio, is among the world’s most well-known white grape varieties. Ironically, the best expressions of it — the age-worthy Grand Cru bottlings from Alsace and the increasingly compelling ones from Oregon’s Willamette Valley — aren’t the most famous. That title belongs to the often bulk-produced Pinot Grigios of northern Italy. These are among the most popular white wines in the world, and what they tend to lack in complexity and depth, they generally make up for in uncomplicated culpability. Even though wine professionals tend to frown on those particular big-brand bottlings, they don’t represent the whole story: Producers like Silvio Jermann and Cantine Terlan, among others, make Italian Pinot Grigio of profound accomplishment. In other words, the world of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are far more complicated, in the best possible sense, than they get credit for.
What is Pinot Grigio wine?
Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio as it’s known in Italy and worldwide, is a wine produced from the grape of the same name. Depending on where it’s grown, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio can be crafted into cheap and cheerful bottles that sell for less than $10 and that provide the kind of uncomplicated wine pleasures associated so readily with style: Citrus fruit, fresh acidity, and a relatively short finish that doesn’t dominate the foods it’s sipped alongside. Yet plenty of producers work magic with the grape variety, crafting wines of severe accomplishment and refinement.
Where does Pinot Grigio wine come from?
Pinot Gris is most famously grown and produced in France’s Alsace region, where it represents some of the finest bottlings, whether classified as Grand Cru or not. There, it can be found dry or sweet and also plays a vital role in many blends of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. In Oregon, particularly the Willamette Valley, Pinot Gris is an increasingly important grape variety, producing wines of energy and refinement in equal measure. And in Italy, where it’s known as Pinot Grigio, the grape variety is used for wines that range from mass-produced to single-vineyard gems that rank among the most exciting examples of the array in the world. Pinot Gris is also successful in Washington State, California, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany.
Why should you drink Pinot Grigio wine?
In a world where grape-variety reputations are so set in stone among the wine-drinking public, Pinot Gris has a notable ability to surprise and charm. Whether it’s a cellar-worthy bottle of Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris, a shimmering, profoundly delicious single-vineyard Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, or an inexpensive, uncomplicated bottle from a household-name brand, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are produced in a notable range of styles. For something exciting, make sure to try a Pinot Grigio Ramato, which is crafted in contact with the grape skins, lending the finished wine an amber or rust-colored appearance — the word tomato in Italian is a reference to the copper-like color of the wine — and nuttier, stone-fruit-like aromas and flavors. The 2021 Conte Brandolini d’Adda Pinot Grigio Ramato is a lovely example of the style, full of energy and hints of hard apricots and cranberries, and under $20.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are also excellent with food. More acid-zipped ones are amenable, pairing partners with butter sauces, light fish and seafood, and fresh vegetables. In their richer versions, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio can work nicely with lighter meats like chicken and veal, which lend them a new pop of acidity and fruit.
What does Pinot Grigio taste like?
High-quality examples of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio reflect the land where the grapes were grown. This means that the individual Grand Cru vineyards of Alsace will each tend to produce wines of distinctive character. The same goes for the top single vineyards of Alto Adige. Ambitious producers of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio generally strive to manifest the land, the vintage conditions, and their vision for each year’s vinification. In contrast, most volume-focused brands typically go for innocuous, fruit-forward white wines that are consistent year after year.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio generally showcase fruit on the citrus end of the spectrum, predominantly with lemon and lime. You might also find crisp apples like Granny Smith and hard pears. Hints of flowers like honeysuckle and citrus blossom are usually only present in the best examples.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio should be enjoyed at cooler temperatures, though the specifics depend on the bottle style you’ll open up. Bulk-produced Pinot Grigio is best enjoyed straight from the fridge, as the chill helps to highlight its acidity and citrus fruit. High-quality examples from the great producers of Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Alsace, and the Willamette Valley, are best enjoyed with slightly less of a chill, enough to maintain the wines’ freshness but not so much that the underlying and often more subtle fruit and floral notes are tamped down. A standard white or universal wine glass will make the most out of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.
Five Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio Wines to Taste
Countless excellent Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines are on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have to offer.
Banfi produces a wide range of wines in Tuscany, from Brunello di Montalcino to the under-$20 “San Angelo” Pinot Grigio 2020, which can be found (perhaps literally) everywhere. Yet despite that ubiquity and the volume in which it’s produced, it offers plenty of bright citrus and pear fruit alongside suggestions of flowers and honey.
In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and more! ), Chehalem produces a lovely Pinot Gris from the Chehalem Mountain AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 2018 shows many hard pears, lemon blossoms, and honey-coated almonds through the long, mineral finish.
The venerable producer’s 2018 “Les Jardins” Pinot Gris is terrific, a ripe, honeyed white whose creamy texture carries flavors of caramel apples and lemongrass, a pulse of almonds and minerality thrumming along through the citrus-pith-flecked finish. Plus, it’s certified biodynamic.
The 2019 Castel Ringberg Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige is an excellent wine — it’s subtle, structured, and layered, yet still very energetic. Aromas of mineral and hard apples, as well as fine herbs and lemon pith, are followed by a concentrated, vibrant palate of chalky mineral, lemon pith, and a finish that rolls on a wave that’s subtly salty and reminiscent of yellow-apple fritters. Also worth popping if you have a bottle is the 2015 Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige. This silky, caramel-flecked, nutty, and dried-peach-kissed gem proves how well high-quality Pinot Grigio can age.
The 2020 Reserve Pinot Gris from Alsace is a pure, mineral-driven wine with lemon-lime notes and candied ginger. Fresh acidity makes it an excellent go-to for fish and seafood.