Did you ever browse a supermarket shelf and come across two wines side by side, one called pinot grigio and the other pinot gris?
And wonder what was going on?
Here’s what. Same grape, different countries, different languages. Pinot grigio means “gray pinot” in Italian, and pinot gris means the same in French. It’s because the grapes are kind of a bluish-gray.
It’s a mutation of pinot noir, a red grape. (That was quite a mutation.) “Pinot” is French for “pine cone,” referring to the shape of the clusters of grapes. So the next time you go into a wine bar, you can order a glass of “gray pine cones.”
In any case, pinot grigio is winning fans. The Nielsen survey folks call it the second-fastest-selling white wine in the country, after chardonnay and ahead of sauvignon blanc. Pinot gris is less well-known, but also gaining ground.
The wines are popular because they’re dry and light, crisp and lively, great as aperitifs and with light summer foods. Good to chill and serve at picnics or on patios.
But in flavor they’re not the same.
Pinot grigio was developed in Northern Italy, near the Alps, in very cool weather. It doesn’t get quite as ripe, so it’s crisper, leaner, drier, lighter in body, often with citrus and mineral flavors. Usually with about 12 percent alcohol. Good with shellfish.
Pinot gris came from France’s Alsace region, a warmer climate. So it gets riper. It has more alcohol, about 13 percent. It’s richer, creamy, softer, with apricot and melon flavors. A good wine for light chicken and fish dishes.
Both are best consumed when young, fresh and fruity.
By custom, the name “pinot grigio” has been adopted in California and Australia, where the Peter Lehmann winery released one for 2011 with grapes from the cool-weather Adelaide Hills.
The “pinot gris” name has been adopted in Oregon, where the grape is quickly gaining popularity. Other countries use either name or both.
• 2011 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon: soft, smooth, rich, with floral aromas and flavors of white peaches and minerals; $15.
• 2011 Ferarri-Carano Pinot Grigio, Russian River Valley: light and lively and crisp, with flavors of melons, green apples and minerals; $17.
• 2009 King Estate “Domaine” Pinot Gris, Oregon: full-bodied and fruity, with aromas and flavors of apricots, golden apples, spices and minerals; $25.
• 2011 Woodbridge Pinot Grigio, by Robert Mondavi, California: light, lean and crisp, with lemon-lime flavors; $8.
• 2011 McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio, California: crisp and light, with aromas and flavors of green pears and white grapefruit; $10.
• 2010 Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris, Alsace, France: aromas of ripe pears and vanilla, medium body, crisp; $18.
• 2011 Peter Lehman “Art Series” Pinot Grigio, Adelaide Hills, Australia: light and crisp, with green apple and mineral flavors; $13.
Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reach at email@example.com.