Pinot grigio is the Italian name for Pinot gris, a French grape. Although it yields a fruity, dry white wine, Pinot gris is actually a red grape, with skins ranging in color from bluish gray to brownish pink. It is an ”early to market” wine, meaning that it can usually be bottled and sold within four to 12 weeks after fermentation.

Pinot grigio is the most popular imported wine in the U.S., with sales accounting for 12 percent of all imported wines. It goes well with seafood, light pasta, and cheese and cracker combinations. Soft cheese goes especially well with Pinot grigio wine – the crispness and acidity in the wine create a mouth-cleansing effect that complements soft cheeses perfectly.

History of Pinot Grigio

Pinot gris originated in the Burgundy region of France in the Middle Ages. By 1300, the vines had spread to Switzerland and were discovered growing in Germany in the 18th century.

Pinot gris was a popular wine grape in Burgundy and Champagne for several centuries; however, unreliable crops led the grape to lose favor in the 18th and 19th centuries. Germany was able to continue to produce Pinot gris thanks to the early 20th century development of a clonal variety that allowed for a more reliable crop.

Basic Properties of Pinot Grigio

Generally, Pinot grigio is a crisp, fruity dry white wine, with a delicate aroma hinting of honey, roses, nuts, orange rind and pine. Subtle differences exist in Pinot grigio from different regions: Oregon turns out a medium-bodied Pinot grigio wine with fruity aromas — usually pear, apple or melon. California versions are light-bodied and crisp with aromas of pepper and arugula. And Italian Pinot grigio is a light-bodied, crisp and acidic wine.

Color varies among different styles of Pinot grigio. For example, Italian Pinot grigio tends to have a straw-yellow color, while Pinot grigio from Oregon has a copper-pink color.

Regions Known for Growing Pinot Gris

The popularity of Pinot grigio has spread to many countries:

  • Australia: Pinot gris was initially brought to Australia by James Busby, the ”father” of Australian wine, in 1832. Both Pinot grigio and Pinot gris are produced in the region, with the Pinot grigio designation going toward the drier wines.
  • France: Pinot gris grapes made up 13.9 percent of the vineyard surface of Alsace, France, in 2006. The cool climate and volcanic soil make the French version of the wine, also called Pinot gris, richer, spicier and fuller-bodied than other styles of Pinot grigio.
  • Italy: Pinot grigio grapes are found in the Lombardy region and in Italy”s most northern wine region, Alto Adige.
  • New Zealand: Grown in both the North and South Islands, Pinot gris is the fourth most planted white grape (Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and Riesling being the first three). Fifty percent of the Pinot gris in the region comes from Canterbury and Marlborough.
  • Oregon and California: Pinot grigio is relatively new to the American west coast, with the first grapes being planted in Oregon in 1966. Oregon has more than 1,797 acres of Pinot gris, while California boasts 1,620 acres. California Pinot grigio is similar in style to Italian Pinot grigio.

Popular Producers of Pinot Grigio

If you”re tasting Pinot grigio for the first time, these producers offer high quality wines at good value:

  • Jacobs Creek Pinot Grigio: This contemporary wine offers honey and pear aromas with lemon and green apple flavors, with hints of floral notes and grassiness.
  • Nobilissima Pinot Grigio: A slightly sweet wine with hints of white flowers, apples and pear. The grapes for this brand of wine are picked eight to ten days later than usual for the region, resulting in riper fruit.
  • Voga Pinot Grigio: This fruity brand of Pinot grigio is full-bodied, with aromas of apple and pear.
  • Woodbridge Pinot Grigio: Grown in California”s Central Valley, this Pinot grigio offers hints of pear, melon, lemon blossom, nutmeg and cinnamon.