Pinot Gris (Vitis vinifera var ‘Pinot Gris’)
The Vitus vinifera Pinot Gris is pronounced either ‘Pee-no GREE-joe’ (Italian) or ‘Pee-no GREE’ (French), the French origin of “pinot” means pin, from “pine tree” and “Gris” for the grey-like colour of the grape skin (although technically the grape colours may actually range from blue-grey to pink, and sometimes darker). It’s believed that the name ‘pinot’ comes from the pine-cone like appearance of the grape cluster which are tightly packed and small compared to other grapevine variants. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the exact same grape varietal and the names are often used interchangeably, although Pinot Gris is more widely accepted as the name for any wines of this varietal produced outside of Italy. The funny thing is, any of the wines produced outside of Alsace, France are actually presented in the Italian style, not the French style of this varietal. The Italian-style is a dry wine, and comes in variable levels of ‘fruitiness’; there is an Alsace-style (France) which is a sweet Pinot Gris, but it is produced exclusively in Alsace.
Specific Regions Where Pinot Gris Grapes Are Grown
The North-Eastern area of Italy is best known for producing Italian pinot Grigio/Gris specifically the Alto Adige, Friuli, Lombardy, Trentino, and Veneto regions. Other well-known areas are Alsace (France), Willamette Valley in Oregon (US), Arroyo Seco in California (US), and the Okanagan region in Canada.
Synonyms of the Pinot Gris Wine Varietal
Pinot Grigio (Italy), Auvergne Gris, Baratszinszoeloe, Ruländer (Germany), Fromenteau (Burgundy), Fromentot, Malvoisie (Loire), Szürkerbarat (Hungary), Pinot Beurot (Bourgogne), Romato (Rose from Friuli, Italy), Spinovy Hrozen and Zelenak
Experience / Tasting Profile Of Pinot Gris Grape Variety
Appearance of Pinot Gris Wine
Pinot Noir single varietal wine is a golden yellow colour with a very slight copper hue. If there is skin contact during fermentation the resulting wine colour can be almost salmon or light orange.
Aroma, Flavours & Mouthfeel of Pinot Gris Wine
Italian Style Pinot Grigio — Dry (mineral to fruity, light-bodied)
The Italian style ‘Pinot Grigio’ is a light-bodied, dry white, which generally has aromas and flavours that range from very fruit-forward wines (stone-fruit, pears, apple, etc.) to more citrus-exclusive wines. Pinot Grigio is sometimes also complimented by subtle mineral undertones. This Italian style is not exclusive to Italy and is carried forward in other regions including Austria, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand; however, wines produced from grapes grown in warmer climates (such as California), will present more tropical-like flavours of pear, apple, and citrus compared to those produced in cooler regions like Canada which generally present minimal fruit flavours, or citrus only with additional mineral-like qualities.
French Style Pinot Gris — Sweet (fruity-‘spicy’, medium-bodied)
The French style ‘Pinot Gris’ is a medium-bodied, sweeter white which generally has flavours of spice and fruit. Common flavours include Cinnamon, Honey, Clove, Meyer Lemon, Ginger, and Honeysuckle. This sweeter-style pinot Gris are currently only produced in Alsace, France. The occurrence of noble rot or ‘Botrytis’ at the end of the crop process, concentrates flavours and sugars prior to fermentation and often produces wines much sweeter and with more alcohol than those which are picked before noble rot sets in.
If you find that Pinot Gris wines are boring, simple or underwhelming, try moving to a price point of $20 or higher and avoid “budget bottles.”
The Terroir of the Pinot Gris Grape Varietal: In What Conditions Does Pinot Noir Grow?
Similar to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris is best grown at mid to high elevations for good presentation of flavours. Pinot Gris needs bright light and low temperatures with neither too much nor too little water. Soil must be well drained and rich in micronutrients as the grapevine requires enough nutrients to survive, but not so much that it is “extremely happy”; plants that are not sufficiently stressed put will more energy into growth and less into reproduction resulting in plants that are overly-vigorous and excessively-vegetative (really-bushy/leafy); as well, grapes produced from “extremely-happy plants” can have undesirable flavours and excessive water in the grape which is less ideal for wine production. Plants grown with too few nutrients and/or water will produce grapes with too little sugar and low flavour precursors which are vital for the production of a great pinot Gris.
Biology Of The Pinot Gris Grape Variety
Like Pinot Noir, the Pinot Gris grape is fussy and difficult to grow, being susceptible to fungus, bacterial rot, and various Grapevine Viruses.
The Lineage of Vitus vinifera var ‘Pinot Noir’
There is a reason why Pinot Gris has similar growth requirements as Pinot noir…all “Pinot” grape varietals are variants of the other; Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc are all mutations of the same grape, only differing in the color of the grape’s skin; it is unknown which grape varietal of the three was the original or first form, but all Pinot variants are believed to be only slightly removed from the original undomesticated Vitis vinifera species; which is good because it means there is greater genetic variability in the plants.