Pinot Gris, known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and some parts of the US, is the most popular mutation of Pinot Noir. Ten or twenty years ago, the grape was primarily known to the world through blended Alsatian wines, but Italian Pinot Grigio has become increasingly popular, and the grape is now experiencing a type of revival.
How Pinot Gris mutated from Pinot Noir is still largely unknown. Records have shown that the grape has been grown in Burgundy for at least 800 years. It was transported around to other parts of Europe, but poor yields and underappreciation by growers kept it unpopular for centuries. It was only recently that it began to become popular again.
Pinot Gris’s deep-rooted connection to Pinot Noir leads to an unsurprising viticultural similarity. Pinot Gris wines are best from cool climates. The grape is finicky to grow.
Classicist drinkers still consider Alsatian Pinot Gris to be the finest expression of the grape’s flavors. Occasionally spicy, always rich and full-bodied, Pinot Gris from Alsace remains by far the most ageable of all Pinot Gris. The wines have a very flavorful bouquet of fruit, and their elegance gives them the status of a noble grape. Late-harvest sweet wines are rare, but if the right factors coincide they can be excellent.
Pinot Noir’s reputation in Burgundy also means that the white variant is planted there; it is allowed to be mixed into the red wines of Burgundy. But this is extraordinarily rare, even in Burgundy’s lower-quality examples. Elsewhere in France, plantings are sparse, as Pinot Gris can rarely reach the lofty flavors it attains in Alsace. Australia makes some sweet wines with the grape, as well as dry ones. The grape thrives in New Zealand and is one of the five most planted varieties in that country.
As good as these wines are, they lack the popular appeal necessary to make a grape highly celebrated. Recently, Italy has been providing the boost that Pinot Gris needs to appeal to modern drinkers. In Italy, the wine is called Pinot Grigio, and it is light in both color and body. Its complete lack of intimidating fullness stands in contrast to French Pinot Gris. Low to moderate acidity in Italian Pinot Grigio lets the fruity flavors stand out.
Oregonian Pinot Gris is similar to its French counterpart. Pinot Gris from King Estate is among the most highly regarded in Oregon, with refined flavors that satisfy wine aristocrats. General consumers, however, have given California Pinot Grigio quite a bit of attention of late.
Clearly, there are two very distinct styles of Pinot Grigio. Whether you are a stickler for classy, elegant flavors, or you like light, easily drinkable white wines, you will find something desirable within the world of Pinot Gris. Lovers of Pinot Gris are benefiting from its boom, as more countries and regions than ever are experimenting with the grape and creating new styles.