Pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape, but not quite the same wine.
The grape originated in Burgundy—where all the other pinot grapes began—and gets its name from grayish/brownish pink skin. “Pinot” is pine cone in French, reflecting the shape of the grape clusters. “Grigio” is Italian for gray; “gris” is French for gray.
Pinot grigio is Italian iteration of the wine. It classically is light and dry with excellent acidity and flavors of lemons, lime, green apples, and honeysuckle. If makers push ripeness, Meyer lemon, nectarine, and apricot enter the flavor picture.
Pinot grigio is grown in northeastern Italy: Lombardy, the Veneto, Friuli, Trentino and Alto Adige. It is the most popular white wine in Italy and the most popular imported white wine in the U.S.
Pinot gris is the iteration grown in France, especially in Alsace. In contrast to its Italian version, pinot gris has a fuller body, is richer and has more spice elements. There also is a viscous texture that usually appears in the mid-palate and is often likened to running your tongue over waxed paper. While that might not sound appetizing in a sentence, it plays much better in your mouth.
Pinot gris has the same flavors as pinot grigio, although peach and honey creep into descriptions more often than they do for pinot grigio. Because it is richer, pinot gris can work with heartier fare, including veal chops, pork roast, chicken casseroles, and hard cheeses.
Pinot grigio/pinot gris vines now are planted all over the world. The lighter pinot grigio style has proved the most popular, but makers in New Zealand and Oregon use the grape to make wines in the richer Alsace pinot gris style. Enjoy discovering which style you enjoy, or—even better—enjoy both.
• The Original Dark Horse Pinot Grigio 2016: Very ripe fruits, 76% pinot grigio, simple, tasty. $8-10 Link to my tasting notes
• Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio delle Venezie IGT 2016: Delicious, excellent acidity, perfect for laid-back sipping. $8-12 Link to my tasting notes
• Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2017: Great acidity and fruit, plays well with spicy foods. $14-17 Link to my tasting notes
• Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2016: Fruit-forward easy drinker, round and relaxed in the mouth. $13-16 Link to my tasting notes
Last round: There is no such thing as bad wine. Some wine just happens to be better than others.