Culinary Arts

Learn About Pinot Grigio: Grapes, Winemaking, and the Best Pairings

Written by MasterClass

Mar 15, 2019 • 3 min read

Pinot grigio is a popular grape that produces a light, refreshing white wine that is known by different names in different countries. For example, it is known as pinot grigio in Italy, but the French call it pinot gris. Pinot grigio varietals are usually light, crisp, and dry. It is the second most popular white wine in the US, after chardonnay.

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What Is Pinot Grigio?

Pinot grigio is a white wine grape varietal of the same genetic family as the pinot grape, which includes pinot blanc and pinot noir. (In fact, researchers have determined that it was a genetic mutation that produced the pinot grigio grape.) While it originated in Burgundy, France, where it is known as pinot gris, pinot grigio is now predominantly produced in the Alsace region of France. It has also found a home in northern Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, California, and Oregon.

How Are Pinot Grigio Grapes Harvested and Fermented?

Pinot grigio grapes are usually harvested early and fermented in stainless steel tanks in order to retain as much acidity as possible, giving the white wine its characteristic zing. It is also a “quick” wine: most varietals are bottled within four to twelve weeks after fermentation.

What Are the Characteristics of the Pinot Grigio Grape?

Pinot grigio grapes have different characteristics depending on the region they’re growing.

  • Color. Pinot grigio grapes typically have a grayish-blue color when ripe, although sometimes this can be pinkish-brown. They also grow in small clusters on the vine.
  • Bouquet. Pinot grigios can range from a stronger, floral bouquet to a lighter, citrusy bouquet.

Who Are the Best Producers of Pinot Grigio?

The pinot grigio grape is grown throughout Italy but has excelled in the hilly regions of the northeast, where the nearby Dolomite Mountains protect the vines from winter winds while the Adriatic Sea’s warm breeze encourages the grapes to ripen.

The most popular regions for this white wine grape are the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region; the Alto Adige; and the expansive Veneto region, which stretches from the Dolomites to the Adriatic Sea, and whose capital is Venice. Pinot grigio wines produced in this region are characterized by their light body, crisp texture, acidic flavors, and fruity aromas. The region’s most popular wines include:

  • Santa Margherita’s Alto Adige Pinot Grigio
  • Zenato Pinot Grigio
  • Jermann Pinot Grigio
  • Specogna Pinot Grigio
  • KRIS Pinot Grigio
  • Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio
  • Voga Italia Pinot Grigio

Although pinot grigio has become associated with lighter, easy-to-drink white wines from Italy, it remains a major grape in the Alsace region of France, near the border with Germany and Switzerland, where it accounts for around 13 percent of wine production. The region’s cool climate and volcanic soil produce a wine with a fuller body and stronger flavor than the lighter, Italian varieties.

What Does Pinot Grigio Taste Like?

When produced into wine, pinot grigio is usually medium to light-bodied, dry, and acidic. But depending on the region the grapes are grown, some pinot grigios can have a full to medium body, and can be both sweet and citrusy. German varieties of pinot grigio wines, for example, are still somewhat medium-bodied, balancing acidity with a slight sweetness. Pinot grigio wines are typically smooth and silky in texture and can range from very pale yellow to a deep gold color.

Some common flavors found in pinot grigio wines include:

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Apple
  • Citrus
  • Stone fruit, like peach or apricot
  • Honey
  • Honeysuckle
  • Almond
  • Spices

Is Pinot Grigio Dry?

Pinot grigio can be a dry white wine, depending on the varietal. This style is most commonly produced in northern Italy. The mountainous region where pinot grigio grapes are produced in Italy means the grapes keep their high acidity, producing a lighter-bodied dry wine.

Is Pinot Grigio Sweet?

The Alsace varietals of pinot grigio are sweeter, with strong hints of honey, crisp apples, and candied lemon. This is partly achieved by harvesting the grapes very late, robbing them of their acidity and creating a stronger flavor profile.

What’s the Difference Between Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc?

Both pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc varietals are crisp, dry white wines. However, pinot grigio generally feels a little heavier in the mouth than sauvignon blanc and can actually taste sweeter and more perfumed when making a direct comparison. Sauvignon blanc is crisper, more acidic and generally lighter-bodied.

What’s the Difference Between Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is the most popular white wine variety in the world. It is a medium-bodied wine, characterized by a rich, vanilla profile, often with hints of smokey oak. It is much heavier and less acidic than pinot grigio.

What Are the Best Pinot Grigio Food Pairings?

With its crispness and acidic, citrus notes, pinot grigio lends itself perfectly to light, summery food: think seafood, pasta, and chicken dishes.

Try a glass with the following:

Learn more about pinot grigio from wine critic James Suckling here.