Wine Culture Magazine

What’s in a name? Style and so much more

Pinot Gris is the most widely planted white variety in B.C.; these ripening grapes in the Okanagan have taken on their traditional purple-grey-ish hue.
iStock/Getty Images Plus / laughingmango photo

In the world of wine, few grape varieties have captured the hearts and palates of enthusiasts quite like Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris. Its widespread popularity transcends borders, making it a beloved choice for wine lovers around the globe.

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape variety, yet its different names express a specific stylistic variation. When ready for harvest, the grape skins take on a grey/purple hue, the origin of the variety’s name. “Grigio” means “grey” in Italian, as does “gris” in French, and each nation has its own style. From the Dolomites to the Adriatic Sea in Italy to the mist-shrouded vineyards of Alsace, the fertile valleys of British Columbia and the cool slopes of Germany, let’s delve into the nuanced expressions of this versatile grape.

In Italy the grape is known as Pinot Grigio and
in regions like Friuli-Venezia Giulia (pictured here) tends to produce crisp, refreshing wines.
iStock / Getty Images Plus / Wirestock photo

Italian Pinot Grigio: crisp, refreshing, straightforward

Italy is responsible for 44 per cent of all Pinot Grigio grown worldwide. The Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC appellation, covering the entire northeastern section of the country, contributes 85 per cent of Italy’s total crop, making it the most important region for Pinot Grigio worldwide. Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino are the three main growing areas within this appellation, with over 27,000 hectares planted.

Pinot Grigio made here is a champion of simplicity and elegance. This style is celebrated for its refreshingly crisp profile. Benefitting from ample sunlight and cooling breezes from the Adriatic Sea, the vineyards of the delle Venezie DOC yield wines of vibrant acidity and nuanced fruit character.

Pinot Grigio exhibits a pale straw hue and a palate marked by notes of green apple, citrus, almond and subtle minerality. Its refreshing finish makes it an ideal accompaniment to leisurely outdoor entertaining and aperitivo gatherings. Cin cin!

Alsace, France, is famed for its lush, honeyed Pinot Gris. iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sanny11 photo

French Pinot Gris: rich, textured, refined

In the storied vineyards of Alsace, France, Pinot Gris unveils a more opulent and textured interpretation, showcasing the region’s cool climate and postcard terroirs. With its golden colour and enticing aromatics of ripe pear, honey and spice, Alsatian Pinot Gris captivates the senses with its luxurious mouthfeel and lingering finish.

Pinot Gris is one of Alsace’s four noble grape varieties. The Vosges mountain range contributes a rain-shadow effect on Alsatian vineyards, allowing for long growing seasons, dry autumns and the lowest average annual precipitation of all wine regions in France. In Alsace, over 2,000 hectares of vineyard land are planted with Pinot Gris, 15 per cent of the region’s total vineyard land.

Pinot Gris’s versatility allows it to harmonize effortlessly with many dishes, from traditional Alsatian fare to globally inspired cuisine.

B.C. Pinot Gris: vibrant, fruit-forward, expressive

Pinot Gris is British Columbia’s most widely grown white grape variety, with 529 hectares planted. The B.C. wine industry produces Pinot Gris wines that reflect the region’s dynamic landscape and diverse terroir. With bright acidity and expressive fruit character, B.C. Pinot Gris offers notes of crisp apple, citrus and tropical fruits, delivering vibrant flavours. Most producers use the name “Pinot Gris” for their wines, although a few call it Pinot Grigio in homage to the Italian style and taste profile.

One unique feature of B.C.’s wine regions is the abrupt end to the growing season. “It is almost like someone pulled the plug out of the TV—it is so drastic,” says Mark Sheridan, president of Hester Creek Estate Winery. Summer in the Okanagan Valley is warm and can get exceptionally hot; however, the mean temperature is 12.5°C annually. Vineyard elevation, slope and the moderating effects of lakes (and, on Vancouver Island, the ocean) are all vital for growing delicious Pinot Gris.

B.C. Pinot Gris with locally caught seafood is a classic wine and food pairing option.

Along the banks of Germany’s Mosel River, vineyards produce elegant, aromatic Pinot Gris. iStock / Getty Images Plus / Meinzahn photo

German Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder): elegant, interesting, complex

In Germany, Pinot Gris, known as Grauburgunder, is a wine of elegance, refinement and nuanced complexity. Its delicate balance of ripe fruit, floral aromatics and subtle spice reflects the country’s cool climate and rich winemaking heritage.

Grauburgunder makes up five per cent of vineyard land in Germany, with over 5,000 hectares planted. Whether sourced from the Mosel, Rheingau or Baden regions, German Pinot Gris exemplifies the meticulous craftsmanship that defines the nation’s winemaking tradition.

Roasted pork with dumplings and cabbage is a traditional food pairing with Grauburgunder.

Embracing diversity in every glass

Despite their shared genetic lineage, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris offer a kaleidoscope of flavours and textures when cultivated in different countries and regions. From the straightforward elegance of Italian Pinot Grigio to the refined complexity of Alsatian Pinot Gris, the vibrant expressions of British Columbia, and the sophisticated nuances of German Grauburgunder, each glass tells a story of place and tradition.


Kris Pinot Grigio 2021
(Delle Venezie DOC, Italy, $19.99) Flavours of fresh apricots and almonds on the palate.

Pfaffenheim Pfaff Pinot Gris 2019
(Alsace, France, $24.99) Ripe cantaloupe melon and honey.

Tightrope Winery Pinot Gris 2022
(Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, $25) Lemon zest, fresh pear, a dusting of minerality.

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