to Gris or to Grigio, that is the question

Fetch yourself a glass of Pinot Gris and somewhere comfortable to sit down and we start to explain the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are wines crafted from the exact same grape variety. There is no genetic or DNA disparity whatsoever.

It is a grape with a greyish/brownish pink skin, hence the name 'gris', masculine from grey in French. Despite the appearance of the grape, it is officially a white grape variety. It originated in France and a mutation, a very close relation, of the Burgundian Pinot Noir grape.

Pinot Gris

The grape is the same, but the wines are different.

Despite the French name, we really have to thank the Italians for bringing such huge global recognition and fame to this variety. Pinot Grigio is the Italian style of Pinot Gris...confused? Surely not. The two names only indicate two different styles of wine.

Pinot Grigio comes historically from the region of Lombardy in Italy but is now widely grown in Northern Italy. In the warmer climate, the fully ripened berries accumulate high sugar levels quickly, and wine made from those ripe grapes would be very high in alcohol, low in acidity and rather flabby.

To achieve the typical light-bodied, crisp, fresh, vibrant style with zesty notes of Citrus, Apple and Pear, the grapes are picked slightly under-ripe and modern winemaking techniques have really enhanced the youthfulness of the wine.
Pinot Grigio, being lighter, is best suited to be enjoyed as an apéritif or appetiser and with dishes such as seafood and grilled meats. 

Pinot Gris vs Pinot Grigio

In contrast the cooler climate Alsace Pinot Gris wines are more full-bodied, richer, more viscous in texture, and a hint sweeter. Spicy tropical or ripe Stone-fruit aromas distinguish them from their Italian cousins. Depending on the winemaker's desired style, the fermentation can occur in stainless steel tanks, barrels, or finished in a mix of both.

The more fruit-driven and textural nuances of Pinot Gris work well with a more decadent fare, such as veal and chicken dishes hard cheeses but excel when paired with Asian style food.
Pinot Gris tends to have greater cellaring and ageing potential.

In Alsace, Pinot Gris late harvest botrytis styles such as Vendange Tardive are sought after and also the intensely rich, exquisitely sweet and rare Sélection de Grains Noble.

Today Pinot Gris grapes are planted worldwide in almost every wine-growing region mostly making the more fashionable Pinot Grigio style in large commercial volumes. Those wines are typically easy-drinking and destined for early consumption.

Let me confuse you a little bit more about Pinot Gris, just for fun.

Grauburgunder, the German-style Pinot Gris, is the preferred HAWKSHEAD style.
It denotes a sleeker, drier style without loosing texture and fruit flavours. Those attributes make it a great companion for many food choices. It is reminiscent of the Alsace Pinot Gris that grows just a few kilometres across the river Rhein in France.

Another richer, fuller-bodied and more fragrant German version of Pinot Gris is a Ruländer. First made by Johann Ruland in the early 18th century. This variant enjoys regional popularity and always matures in oak barrels and that is the difference to most Pinot Gris wines.

Wines made in a traditional way from Pinot Gris grapes tend to be golden yellow, but there can be a plethora of hues from light pink to copper.

Ramato, named after the Italian term for copper, ‘Rame'. Is another style variation found in North Italy. But the colour alone does not determine the style of wine. A Pinot Gris Ramato is made by and refers to a historic winemaking practice from Friuli, Venezia and Giulia region of North Italy where the pinot gris grapes are fermented with their skin and pips. This farmhouse style, copper coloured wine is apparently very much loved by Italians and described to have an interesting tactile texture. I can't wait to try it in situ.  

We can enjoy a similar wine without going to Italy. Orange wine is like and gets it colour also from skin contact. The grapes are pressed and the juice ferments with skin and pips. The wine is most often made from Pinot Gris, but could also be made from any white Wine grape variety and might be better named Amber wine, as it has only the colour in common with Oranges.

The latest darling of the Natural Wine World is  Pét-Nat or Pétillant Naturel made from Pinot Gris grapes. Pét-Nat is a cloudy, fizzy Natural Wine. The grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented with indigenous yeast or inoculated. At the time of bottling the wine still contains unfermented sugars and fermentation continues in the bottle. It can be a very enjoying fizzy drink for adults and depending on its sweetness quit a dangerous one.

But here is another way of making Pét-Nat, which I call ‘double-dipping’, e.g. re-hydrating pressed grape skins and starting fermentation through inoculating the mix with yeast …not so sure about that …

I like to note one more wine fact; Pét-Nat can be made from most grape varieties, white or black and Orange wine from all white grape varieties.

I do hope this is helpful and if you read it all you definitely deserve another glass of wine.
May I recommend a Hawkshead Pinot Gris … 


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