Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris – What’s The Difference?

Harry Lambourne
29th September 2023

Have you ever wondered why some winemakers will opt for the name Pinot Gris and why some opt for Pinot Grigio? You may have even asked yourself if these are even the same grape variety. Let’s look into that.

It should come as no surprise that the names of grape varieties are not the same across the world. There are a myriad of different languages, both national and regional, which determine what these grape varieties are called.

One person’s Grenache is another person’s Garnacha. Then, there’s Tempranillo. This is called Ull de Llebre in Catalonia and Cencibel in La Mancha. Then, even within other parts of Spain it’ll pop up as Tinta Fino or Tinta del País. You’ll also see it referred to as Tinta Roriz or Aragonês in Portugal.

Grenache Grapes
Grenache or Garnacha? It’s All About Geography

The key point being that the same grape variety can take on a new name, in a new region. However, this is not just a difference in language. Sometimes, there can be stylistic reasons for the name of a grape variety.

For example, if you find a wine called Pinot Gris in the English speaking country of New Zealand, what would be the reason for this? It will likely be because the winemaker is giving you a hint as to what style of wine you will be buying.

We’ll take you through this glorious grape variety and some of the wine regions which have given it a home. We will also give you some insight into what you can expect when you find in the bottle, whether it says Gris or Grigio.

The Pinot Gris Grape Variety

For ease, we will simply refer to the grape variety of Pinot Gris, but the truth is that on this front there is no real difference between the two. Pinot Grigio is not a separate grape variety. The grapes are one and the same, but they simply take on different expressions when grown in different places.

The grapes are a striking golden colour, which can often lead to wines having a pale gold reflection as well. 

They are early budding and early ripening and are known to accumulate high sugar levels if left on the vine. Alsace is famous for late-harvest sweet Pinot Gris because of this reason. Look out for the words ‘Vendanges Tardives’ on the label, if you fancy a late harvest Alsace wine. The high sugar levels also allow for the off-dry styles of Pinot Gris.

The fact that the grapes ripen early, but are sometimes used as ‘late harvest’ offerings should give an indication of the variety of flavours which can be had with Pinot Gris. Wines which are picked early will be fresher and more acidic with tart flavours of apple and lemon. Whereas, those picked later on in the season have riper fruit notes and an almost oily texture.

Already, you should be able to see which flavours fit with Pinot Gris and which fit with Pinot Grigio. So, let’s take a look at this in greater detail.

Alsace And Pinot Gris

Alsace Wine Region | Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris Alsace

Alsace is like no other French wine region with its distinct German influence. If you are looking for somewhere different to visit then put Alsace on your travel wish list.

From grand cru vineyards, to Michelin star restaurants, and legendary castles Alsace has something for everyone!

Alsace Pinot Gris is the riper, full bodied expression of this grape variety. It is one of Alsace’s Four ‘Noble Grape Varieties’ and can be used in Grand Cru wines. It is treated with much reverence in this winemaking area. These are serious, brooding white wines with pronounced minerality and intense flavours.

Alsace Pinot Gris are fleshly, almost oily wines. You can also get them in off-dry styles which exhibit ripe notes of stone fruits, such as peach and nectarine.

You can find similar styles of this wine in many new-world winemaking nations. New Zealand is becoming particularly well known for these styles of wine, as are parts of Australia. On the other side of the world, you’ll find that America has also begun producing some really top-quality examples of ‘Pinot Gris’. We’d highly recommend a look into places such as Oregon for an Alsatian style of this grape variety.

Veneto And Pinot Grigio

The Veneto Region - Home of Prosecco
The Veneto Region – Home of Prosecco & Pinot Grigio

Now, we move to Italy and this grape variety changes completely. ‘Pinot Grigio’ is a cornerstone of the Veneto wine region. This is partly because they crank out staggering amounts of everyday, average table wine. This can cause people to assume ‘Pinot Grigio’ is a worse version of the grape variety. This is not the case. It is simply a different style of wine.

Is Burgundy Chablis better than Californian Chardonnay? It is an impossible question. A grape variety, (such as Chardonnay), can present wildly different expression from one region to another. Wine is a matter of taste and if you prefer fresh, fruity white wine, then ‘Pinot Grigio’ will likely tickle your fancy far more than the ripe and oily ‘Pinot Gris’.

The Veneto versoin is light, fresh and bone dry, with a real punchy acidity that is far more unrestrained when compared to Pinot Gris. The tasting notes will be dominated by green and citrus fruit. You’ll often note apple, pear, lemon and lime. Excellent examples of this style can be found throughout Veneto.

However, many producers in different countries also look to emulate the Italian style of this grape variety. If you want something that’ll scream citrus and is wonderful when chilled then seek out the Pinot Grigio wines of Argentina, South Africa, USA and Australia, as well as some lesser known winemaking nations such as Romania.

Pinot Gris Pinot Grigio Grape Variety
Pinot Gris/Grigio Grape Variety

Now that you know what to expect when you see a Gris, or a Grigio, we hope we’ve left you with the tools to keep your wine journey rolling! You can find delicious wines whether it’s a Pinot Gris or a Pinot Grigio.

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If you’d simply just like to learn more about wine, (and not just the unexpected winemaking countries)l from the comfort of your own home, be sure to check out our online blog and sign up to our mailing list. We’re always looking to teach people about different regions, grape varieties and producers. Beyond that, you can expect to find a whole host of playlists, cocktail cards and recipe cards packed full of wine pairing ideas. There might even be some special offers along the way so make sure that you don’t miss out!

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