The Pinot Gallery: A Look into Blanc, Grigio, Gris, and More
For many uninterested drinkers (or for the avid fans of red), white wine is white wine. However, for anyone who actually knows their white, there are almost endless choices based on colour alone.
More than the similarities in shade, the problem many people have with choosing white wines is the difference (or in some cases, lack thereof) in names and blends. Take for example the Pinot grape and its white varieties. Apart from the popular red wine variety of Pinot Noir, there’s the white varieties of Pinot Grigio, Gris, and Blanc—as well as their respective white wine counterparts.
Chances are, you’re more familiar with Pinot Grigio, albeit you only know it as the one-toned, citrusy white most people pour during hot or warm days.
Here, we give you a rundown on the differences (and similarities) of the three Pinot grapes:
These Belong to the Same Family
Pinot wines come from grapes that belong in the same family. Pinot grapes trace their roots to Burgundy. From there, the vine branches out into Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir Précoce.
The Variations are Mutations
Blanc, Gris, and Grigio trace their lineage to Pinot Noir. The three white grape varietals are colour mutations of the red grape varietal.
As discussed in a previous blog, wines get most of its colour from a natural pigment found in the grape skin: anthocyanin. When it comes to the Pinot grapes, the Noir contains the largest amount of active anthocyanins.
At one point down the lineage of Pinot Noir, a mutation occurred wherein the grape had very few anthocyanins (the pigment became inactive). This led to the Pinot Blanc grape. In the middle of Blanc and Noir are the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.
Grigio and Gris are the Same, sort of
In strict winemaking terms, Pinot Gris and Grigio are the names given to a greyish-purple grape that traces its root back to France’s Alsace region.
“Gris” is the French and Spanish word for ‘grey’; “Grigio” is the Italian translation for the same word.
This, however, does not mean a bottle of either will have the same flavours and aromas. While both are genetically the same variety from the Vitis vinifera species, wine made from each grape will have different flavour profiles. The styles of the blend will still be unique to each vintage and estate.
The Pinots Teach You About Terroir
The blends made from Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio highlight the importance of terroir and winemaking style in developing the character of wines. While coming from the same grapes, the flavours of the juice and the wine differ based on local climate, soil, geography, and other factors.
The grape varietals can also have specific regions of origins. But like the nature of vines, it can find its way to new territory. This is how the Pinot Grigio came to be.
The Pinot Gris originated in Burgundy, made its way to Switzerland in the 14th century, and then reached the shores of Italy, where it became Pinot Grigio. The grape also took side trips and took root in Austria (where it is known locally as Grauburgunder), Australia, Germany, Oregon, South Africa, and other countries.
Moreover, Pinot Grigio is usually a low-acid grape, despite its ‘zippiness’. Because of this, we get such a variety of this Pinot grape since it is sensitive to the terroir. This is why the varietal generally prefers the gentle slopes of the hillsides and cool climates, such as those of Alsace and north-eastern Italy. Slight variations in the climate or winemaking process (e.g., aging style) will greatly affect the grape’s acidity, fruitiness, and aromatics.
Interestingly, Pinot Blanc has an Italian counterpart: Pinot Bianco (or Pinot Nero in certain areas). This white mutation of Pinot Noir is usually blended with Chardonnay and other varietals to create a fruity, zippy blend.
The French Pinot Gris grown in Alsace are creamy-textured and musky. On the other hand, the Italian Biancos have a zippier acidity, usually with hints of citrus and pears. American Pinot Blancs, as the name suggests, are closer to the French style.
Generally, Pinot Blancs pair well with cheesy dishes, while Pinot Biancos go well with chicken breast, white fish, and other light foods with simple sauces. Pinot Grigio is best poured while it’s still young and crispy, but its Gris counterpart can be a rich dessert wine if it was made using late-harvest grapes.