Pinot grigio is one of the most divisive grapes in the world of wine. Its devotees are die-hard enthusiasts, many of whom eschew other varieties altogether, but its detractors are vocal. How can popular opinion be so split on one of the best-selling wines on the planet? Well, think about vanilla ice cream. If you pick up a pint from a large national brand at your local convenience store, it’s likely to be pretty bland and uninteresting—not actively bad, but merely fine. But a scoop of fresh homemade vanilla bean from your favourite local creamery can be complex, delightful and perhaps even revelatory.
Wine follows a similar principle: If you go with the mass-produced option, you’ll likely be underwhelmed. But if you choose the right regions and producers, you’ll be on your way to an outstanding pinot grigio experience.
Pinot grigio, commonly known as pinot gris in Francophone countries, is Italian for grey pinot. This name comes from the colour of the grape skins, which are actually pink rather than grey, but it makes sense when you think of it as being in between pinot bianco/blanco (white pinot) and pinot nero/noir (black pinot). In fact, all of these varieties are naturally occurring colour mutations of the same grape.
Thoughtful vineyard management is a necessary component of producing great pinot grigio. When yields are kept low and grapes are allowed to ripen fully, the wines are bright, crisp and refreshing, with vibrant lemon-lime citrus notes alongside other fruits like peach, apricot, green apple and melon. These flavours and aromas are often accompanied by a floral perfume of jasmine and honeysuckle. Italian versions of pinot grigio often have a hint of almond skin in their profiles. In some regions, like Alsace, the finest wines can even develop some elegant toasty, smoky and biscuity notes with a bit of bottle age.
Pinot grigio’s bad rap comes from the inexpensive bulk wines that dominate the market. High-yielding vines save growers money by producing the largest possible crop, but they also lead to diluted flavours. These wines can be rather neutral and simple, but they’re typically very palatable to inexperienced drinkers and also quite affordable, rendering them perfect for parties.
But those looking for a more meditative drinking experience should not overlook pinot grigio, which is perfectly capable of producing some outstanding and memorable wines—if you know where to look. Much of Italy’s pinot grigio production comes from the Veneto region of Italy, but the best examples frequently come from other parts of Italy and beyond.