GRIS OR GRIGIO?

Written by James Hindle

Life at Pop Up Wine Singapore is tough.  We have to taste inordinate amounts of excellent wine.  We have to travel the world visiting spectacularly remote – and often very beautiful – vineyards.  And we have to choose between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio … or do we…

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Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape, a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape which caused its red pigment to become inactive.  The grape is white with a grey-brown skin – hence the name Gris, the French word for the colour grey.  The grape is known as Grauburgunder in Germany and Austria – “grey from Burgundy”.

Pinot Gris originated in France, on the western side of the Alps, but it thrived across the border in Italy where it is known as Pinot Grigio.

Italian Pinot Grigio is typically light, crisp and fresh with aromas of lemon, green apples and flowers.  It is unoaked. French Pinot Gris is generally fuller, spicier with a thicker texture.

The more refreshing Pinot Grigio style has enjoyed great success around the word, particularly in the United States where it is fondly nicknamed “Greej”.   There were approximately 3,500 hectares of Pinot Grigio vineyards in Italy in 1990, but so great was demand that by 2010 we see 17,280.  A five-fold increase, which puts Pinot Grigio production in Italy only marginally behind Chardonnay – the most popular white wine grape on the planet.

The Grigio style is achieved by harvesting the grapes relatively early, in order to retain as much fresh acidity as possible.  Stainless steel tanks are used during fermentation to maintain this freshness.

North-eastern Italy (Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige) is the world epicentre of Pinot Grigio production.

Most of France’s Pinot Gris production – 2,792 hectares in 2011 – comes from Alsace on the German border.  There are also some small pockets of production in the Loire, where it is frustratingly known by yet another name: Malvoisie.

Australia produced 3,766 hectares in 2012, and New Zealand 2,400.

Jancis Robinson notes Pinot Gris’ “chameleon-like ability to adapt the style of wine it produces to each different environment” and the accuracy of this statement is nicely proven by Australian winemaker’s habit of labeling their wine Pinot Gris or Pinto Grigio depending on the style of the wine.  One producer – Zilzie – make both a Pinot Gris and a Pinto Grigio.

The same happens in New Zealand, although to a letter extent: most New Zealand producers label their wine Pinot Gris, despite it typically having clean and fresh lemon characteristics similar to Italian Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Gris pairs very well with fresh vegetables, uncooked fish and white meats such as Chicken and Turkey.  It can also complement Pork and Duck.

At Pop Up Wine Singapore we ordinarily have Pinot Gris available from France, Australia and New Zealand, and Pinot Grigio from Italy!

James Hindle, 21 May 2016

Statistics sourced from Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion To Wine”, 4th Edition.

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