Time to Ponder Pinot Gris(gio)

Looking for values with Pinot Gris and finding a few wines that compete with wines nearly twice the price!


I’ve been through this so many times before that it becomes rote. The differences between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. Well, there really aren’t any, when we are referring to the grapes. One is the name in French while the other is the name in Italian. When it comes to the wines though, there remains some distinction, though that is disappearing as producers seem to be tuning their style towards a price point today, rather than a regional expression.
That is not entirely fair of course. There are certainly regional expressions. Pinot Gris from Alsace continues to be richer, spicier and generally sweeter than Pinot Grigio from northern Italy, which historically has always been about crispness, freshness, and juicy fruit. Bottles labeled as Pinot Grigio, regardless of origin, generally had those traits while bottlings using the Pinot Gris nomenclature generally showed more of that Alsatian style. Today that is increasingly not true.
It seems to me that Pinot Gris is simply winning the battle of the greys, both grigio and gris mean grey in their respective languages, in more ways than one. More producers around the globe are using Pinot Gris on their labels but perhaps more importantly, even more are putting something more stylistically akin to Pinot Gris in the bottle, no matter what the label says.
While the overall level of quality for these wines continues to improve, it’s not helpful for the consumer to have to wonder about a bottle of wine. whether it will be sweet or dry, soft or acidic. it’s a wonder that Pinot Gris(gio) continues to be as successful as it has been, but maybe that is a bit of an illusion driven by the massive numbers sold by a handful of Italian producers. In truth some of those wines, remarkably inexpensive as they are, offer tremendous value to the casual wine drinker. Easy to drink, fruity, and light on the palate, they offer a real alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc, falling roughly between those two varieties.
Once we move away from the true volume producers a funny thing happens. The inexpensive options seem to all get a little sweet on the palate, reflecting both the grapes naturally fruity character, but also the current trend towards wines that have enough residual sugar in them to be soft, fruity, and frankly sweet. While with red wines this has been the domaine of the “innovative” red blend, with Pinot Gris, in particular, there is a historical precedent for these wines. And let’s not forget that Chardonnay in California received a big boost when it went from being a dry wine to being a “dry” wine.
People love their little touch of sweetness in wine. It make the fruity flavors fruitier, covers the acid, and makes the wine easier to drink, particularly on its own as so much wine in this country is consumed. So it’s not surprising to find that Pinot Gris(gio) is now sweeter on the whole than it was a few years ago. That is not universally true as i see many producers in Oregon, for example, reigning in their sugar levels. And incidentally, as if further proof was needed considering the Rieslings and Chardonnays, Oregon continues to emerge as the greatest terroir for white wines in the US, Pinot Gris included.
One interesting result of this tasting was that there appears to be a real difference between the quality of the less expensive and more expensive wines samples for this report. Five of the six most expensive examples finished atop the leaderboard, with the least expensive examples clustered towards the bottom. And while there were some outliers in the middle, the difference between the two price categories was quite significant. 
Still there were two standouts at the $15 price point, one predictably from Italy, the other surprisingly from Idaho. Which just goes to show how well Pinot Grigio can do just about anywhere it’s planted. For my palate though the wines tend to be a bit too fruity, and while not my favorite I can appreciate many of these wines for the way they express the distinct varietal character of this grape that is beloved around the world. 

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6 Top Pinot Grigio Values tasted in 8/2014

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Vigneti Delle Dolomiti (2012)
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Sawtooth Pinot Gris Snake River Valley (2012)
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Sockeye Winery Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley (2012)
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Hahn Estates Pinot Gris (2013)
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Redbank Pinot Gris the Long Paddock Victoria Australia (2013)
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J Vineyards & Winery Vin Gris (2013)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Maggieann
    542000 14

    Interesting reviews, Gregory, but was your editor on vacation? It's reining in, not reigning, and most likely sweet, not swet. I enjoy most of your reviews, but the many typos and veeerrrrry long sentences made this one a bit tough to wade through.

    Aug 18, 2014 at 4:10 PM

  • Snooth User: vin0vin0
    Hand of Snooth
    357808 7,024

    Interesting that 3 of the top 5 pinot gris' are from Oregon, which lines up with what I've experienced. If you get a chance you need to track down a bottle of ArborBrook Vineyards Pinot Gris Guadalupe Vineyard, by far the best pinot gris we've tasted.

    Aug 18, 2014 at 5:59 PM

  • Snooth User: ProfMatt
    1192150 18

    I have been enjoying Pinot Gris all summer. Especially like the MacMurray which is a good value at $14. Just tried Anne Amie which was a bit more expensive & a little sweeter but still good.

    Aug 18, 2014 at 10:32 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 833

    Twenty years ago I never gave this grape much thought, thinking it was one of the lesser varietals out there. Then I tried the 2010 Ventana, the 2008 Helfrich (Alsace) and the 2009 Firestone (Discovery Series) and I had an epiphany. Now I seek them out. Good article. I will have to try your best rated wines.

    Aug 19, 2014 at 1:32 PM

  • @GDP....would be very interested to how you would rate the PG that many people only recognize, Santa Margarita. I'm not expressing an opinion, but I surely have one!

    BTW, a great :Pinot Grigio from Napa is by Laird Family Vineyards, vineyard-designated Cold Creek Ranch at about $20, with some 2012's showing up at Costco for about $13/bottle. A steal, and one of my favorites; Paul Hobbs is the winemaking consultant on this label. Thanks for the article, too.

    Aug 19, 2014 at 3:01 PM

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