Firstly, let’s clear one thing up: Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are made from the same grape variety.
So why the different names? The French call it Pinot Gris (gris is French for grey) and the Italians call it Pinot Grigio (you guessed it, Italian for grey). In Australia there was a push to simply call it Pinot G but not surprisingly, it didn’t really catch on (G having all sorts of connotations which we don’t need to explore here). But Pinot G is a less confusing term when talking about the variety itself so we’ll use it here, for educational purposes only.
Pinot G is a mutation of the red grape variety Pinot Noir and is quite a dark skinned grape. When fully ripe the bunches could even be mistaken for a red grape and the resulting juice has a greyish colour, hence the name. Pinot G originated in France's Burgundy region then travelled abroad to many countries, most notably Italy where they really put their stamp on it. Not only did they change the name and the style of the wine but they embraced it as their main white grape variety. To give you some idea of Italy’s dominance with this grape, Italy has 24,500 hectares under vine compared with France’s 2,800 hectares (Australia has 3,700 hectares). *
However, the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio isn’t just how you say grey, they are stylistically quite different and can be traced to their traditional regions. Although originating in Burgundy, it is the Alsace region of France that is famous for their finely tuned and delicately aromatic Pinot Gris wines. Outside of France, you will generally see other cooler regions such as New Zealand, Tasmania and southern Victoria make theirs in a Gris style as a nod to the Alsace wines. Generally speaking, Pinot Gris wines are richer, fuller-bodied wines and can have noticeable sweetness. The wines are aromatic, fruity with a hint of spice and can have a slightly pinkish hue. They are usually in a tall, thin ‘hock’ bottle, this bottle is traditionally used for other aromatic whites such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
On the other hand, Pinot Grigio is a lighter-bodied wine with a crisp, refreshing taste. It is made in a dry style, with little to no residual sugar. Pinot Grigio is typically less aromatic than Pinot Gris and can be minerally, flinty and have a much lighter texture. They are usually packaged in a clear or green ‘claret’ bottle and they are great with seafood or anything oily that calls for a wine with crisp acidity to cut through the richness.
When it comes to Australian Pinot G there are no hard and fast rules as to what is labelled Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, and with every different region and every different year there can be variations in the style. So just use the label as a general guide; if you prefer an aromatic, delicate wine with perhaps a touch of sweetness, go for a Pinot Gris but if you prefer a crunchy crisp dry white – grab a Grigio!