The difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is not as simple as it may seem. While at first glance, their names might suggest that they’re two completely different varieties of grape, they’re actually more like “siblings” than anything else.
It all boils down to this: while both wines are made from the same grape variety (Pinot Gris), the color of the wine ends up being darker due to where and how the grapes are actually grown. In reality, this makes it a variant rather than a separate variety — but why is this? This answer lies in how these particular vineyards were originally cultivated centuries ago.
Pinot Gris And Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris are both grape varieties that originated in Northern Italy. Their wines tend to be lighter-bodied, which is an intentional decision made by winemakers to complement the food they’re served with.
Their names might suggest otherwise, but both grapes are actually light-skinned variants of Pinot Noir. The difference between them comes from where they’re grown — specifically, how much sunlight their leaves receive during different stages of cultivation.
Let’s start at the beginning: the color of the wine is directly related to grape skin exposure to the sun while it’s ripening. As sugar levels rise in late summer and fall, excess sugars are funneled to the grape’s seeds and skin. This is why wines with darker skins will often have a deeper color than those made from grapes with lighter-colored skins — regardless of ripeness levels.
Pinot Grigio wines are almost always yellow in color, while Pinot Gris wines can be darker. This is because grapes for these lighter-hued wines are usually grown in areas that receive more sunlight during certain parts of the growing process.
Another factor to consider is how long the grape juice spends fermenting. Winemakers who prefer “lighter” flavors tend to ferment their wine for a shorter amount of time — resulting in a lighter hue overall.
If you’re wondering why this matters, it’s worth noting that dark red or purple colors come from molecules called anthocyanins, which also have antioxidant properties. These molecules are present at lower levels in wines with paler colors, so if health benefits alone matter to you, Pinot Gris is the way to go.
Pinot Gris wines are known for their displays of stone fruit (think nectarines and peaches), which can be attributed to the fact that these wines tend to be fermented at cooler temperatures. This cold fermentation process also tends to preserve crisp flavors derived from grapes’ natural acidity.
Of course, many winemakers don’t like sacrificing flavor just to achieve a lighter color. That’s why Pinot Grigio vines are typically grown in areas with more direct sunlight, resulting in wines that display riper flavors described as having notes of tropical fruit — especially lychee.
The aromas of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris can be quite similar. Many describe the smell as floral, herbal, or even grassy (especially in young wines). Other common descriptors include elderflower and peach.
These wines tend to have a more aromatic bouquet than wines made from darker-skinned grapes due to shorter skin contact during fermentation. That being said, if you’re looking for something with a stronger scent, Pinot Gris is probably what you want — though most agree that dark-skinned grapes produce deeper and more complex flavors overall.
If we’ve confused you by now, just know this: both grapes produce distinctively different wines. The simplest way to think about it is that their color ends up influencing the way their wines taste.
Pinot Grigio tends to be lighter and more acidic, with aromas that tend towards fresh flowers like honeysuckle or jasmine. It typically pairs well with light dishes like salmon sashimi or salads made with citrus-based dressings.
Pinot Gris, on the other hand, tends to be darker, rounder, and fuller-bodied. Its bouquet will usually have notes of stone fruit (which is why it’s also sometimes called “Pinot Bianco”). It’s best paired with creamier sauces or fried appetizers.
While both grapes are distinct in flavor, many winemakers now combine certain grapes from each variety to create uniquely flavored blends. These wines are often described as having the ” best of both worlds ” and tend to be more widely available than 100% Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris.
In general, Pinot Grigio is fermented for a shorter time than Pinot Gris. This means that wines made from this grape will display more of their natural acidity and lean towards being crisper in flavor.
Wines made from Pinot Gris are usually fermented slightly longer, which allows sugars to break down completely — resulting in a more balanced wine with a fuller body. These tend to be the ones you’d drink on special occasions or throughout a meal because they pair well with heavier dishes like roasted meats or cheeses.
Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris: What’s The Difference?
Interestingly enough, both wines are made using the exact same grape — it just comes down to how much sunlight they receive during different stages of cultivation. Looking at things this way offers a very simple yet elegant explanation for why these grapes have lighter-colored skins in some places and darker ones in others.
So what makes them different from one another? For starters, Pinot Gris wines tend to be more full-bodied than their counterparts. This is because winemakers who prefer “lighter” flavors will ferment their wine for a shorter amount of time — which means less contact with grape skin and seeds.
In addition, Pinot Gris wines tend to have a more earthy, musky flavor that some people find hard to enjoy — especially when they’re used to the fruitier notes in lighter-colored wines. So if you’re seeking a full-bodied wine with an easy-to-enjoy flavor profile, Pinot Grigio is the way to go. As always, though, it all comes down to personal preference.