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Pinot Grigio: America’s 2nd Most Popular White Wine, For National Pinot Grigio Day

We celebrate National Pinot Grigio Day on May 17th. The refreshing white wine is perfect for warm days enjoyment, but Americans enjoy it year-round.

In fact, while Pinot Grigio is the most popular white wine in Italy, it’s also the most-imported white wine in the U.S.

Below: The difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.

Below: Pairing food with Pinot Grigio.

While best known as an Italian grape, the varietal first appeared in the Burgundy region of France in the Middle Ages, where it was known as Pinot Gris.

  • Pinot is a variation of the French pineau, referring to a pine tree. The varietal got its name from the pine cone-shaped formation of its grape clusters.
  • Gris is French for gray, so named because of the grayish color of the grape’s skin. The grapes range in color from grayish blue to brownish pink and the color variations can occur within the same cluster [source].
  • Pinot Gris along with Pinot Blanc, another white grape, are both mutations of Burgundy’s red Pinot Noir grape.
    From Burgundy, the grape traveled east to the Alsace region of France, where it was to deliver its highest caliber wines.

    It was planted in Switzerland by the 14th century. The wine is said to have been a favorite of Emperor Charles IV, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1355 to 1378 [source].

    It was planted extensively by the Cistercian monks in Hungary and in Italy by 1375, where the now-named Pinot Grigio was destined to become the number-one Italian white [source].

    In Italy, Pinot Grigio is grown largely in the cooler northeastern parts of the country: primarily the Veneto, but also Alto Adige, Friuli, Lombardy, and Trentino.

    Today, Pinot Gris is also grown in Australia, Austria, Chile, Germany, South Africa, and the U.S. (especially California, Oregon, and Long Island, New York) [source].

    The first American Pinot Gris was planted in Oregon by David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in 1965. The varietal was slow to catch on, though.

    In the 1960s, Italy’s Santa Margherita Winery began to export its Pinot Grigio to the U.S., and it ultimately became one of Italy’s largest wine exports to the States [source].

    By the 1990s, American brands of Pinot Grigio began to trend higher and higher.

    As of 2019, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris was the second-largest-selling white wine in the U.S., after Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc was third, followed by White Zinfandel and Riesling [source].

    While their popularity has led to a lot of inexpensive, mass-produced wines that are two-dimensional, there are some fine Pinot Grigios. Ask your wine store for a recommendation. There are good options from $15 upwards.

    While the DNA of the grapes is virtually identical, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are stylistically different wines. This is because of:

  • Terroir*. Variations, whether in temperature or aging style, will impact the way the grape shows acidity, fruit character, and aromatics.
  • Wine making techniques. Pinot Gris wines are generally made from riper grapes (exposed to the sun for a longer time on the vine). As a result, Pinot Gris wines are fuller-bodied, drier, and richer, and they have more notes of honey, spice, and tropical fruits than their Pinot Grigio wines.
  • Pinot Grigio grapes are harvested early to yield a crisp, refreshing acidity.
  • Pinot Gris wines tend to age better—especially those from top producers; and especially the late harvest or botrytised examples called vendanges tardives (VT) and sélection de grains noble (SGN)†.
  • Pinot Grigio wines are not meant to be aged (drink them within 1-2 years after the vintage date). Alsatian Pinot Gris wines can be put down for five years or longer; the VT and SGN wines for much longer, often decades. (see photo #6)
  • American Pinot Grigio is typically harvested later than the Italian grape, but not so late as the sweeter Alsatian varieties. The American wines are still dry, but with more pronounced fruity flavors and less acidity than the French wines [source].
  • Style. Variations to suit local tastes and pair with the local cuisine.
  • While Pinot Grigio is often made to be simple and refreshing, Pinot Gris from Alsace is intensely concentrated and multifaceted, with flavors that can include apple pie, exotic spice, honey, mushroom, and white flower. Alsatian Pinot Gris, while it certainly can be dry, often has some residual sugar and can be quite full-bodied [source].
  • If you’re a Pinot Grigio drinker but would like to try the grape at its zenith, get a good Alsatian Pinot Gris. Our favorites are from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Domaines Schlumberger.

    Pinot Grigio wines are light in body, mild in flavor, crisp, and can be dry, slightly sweet, or off-dry. They have subtle floral or delicately fruity notes. Some will be minerally.

    They have low acid levels as well. They’re clean, easy-drinking, refreshing wines, great for pool or patio, or for pairing with lighter foods (see below).

    The aromas are subtle because the grapes don’t have a high level of ripeness. But let the wine open up in the glass and look for the delicate scents of:

  • Citrus: lemon, lime
  • Floral: elderflower, honeysuckle, orange blossom
  • Herbal: acacia leaf, fennel, mint
  • Pipfruit: apple, pear
  • Stone fruit: nectarine, white peach
  • Other Aromas: almond, ginger, honey, white pepper [source]
    Each producer’s wine will offer different aromas and flavors, based on terroir† and the factors mentioned above.

    And don’t worry if you don’t know the difference between a regular peach and a white peach, or what acacia leaf smells like (here’s the scoop). These are part of the baby steps in mastering wine.

    Choose warm-weather foods, nothing heavy.

  • Crudités, lighter cheese and salume plates, vegetable antipasto.
  • Light chicken and seafood dishes.
  • Pasta with lighter sauces (clam, marinara, olive oil [especially flavored olive oil like basil or garlic] with black pepper and grated parm, pesto).
  • Risotto primavera.
  • Salads.
    Buon appetito!


    Hand holding a glass of Pinot Grigio wine.
    [1] Have a glass: It’s National Pinot Grigio Day, Italy’s most popular white wine (photo © Dorien Beernink | Unsplash).

    Glass and bottle of Pinot Grigio with pizza.
    [2] Have some pizza with your Pinot Grigio (photos #2 and #3 © Brett Jordan | Licensed-under-CC-BY-2.0).

    Glass and bottle of Pinot Grigio.
    [3] Pinot Grigio, light and refreshing, is an ideal warm-weather wine.

    Pinot Grigio, prosciutto, and focaccia.
    [4] Pair Pinot Grigio with Italian foods; here, a snack of prosciutto and focaccia (photo © Lupa Restaurant | NYC).

    Pinot Grigio and mozzarella-cherry tomato skewers.
    [5] Another idea for a Pinot Grigio aperitivo: skewers of mozzarella and cherry tomatoes (photo © Spice Islands).

    Bottle and glass of Schlumberger Pinot Gris Vendage Tardive
    [6] A vendage tardive (VT) Pinot Gris from Domaines Schlumberger, one of the great Alsatian producers of Pinot Gris. This aged wine turns a deep golden color and gains richness and complexity (photo © Tomas Eriksson | Wikipedia).

    *These two styles create sweeter wines. Vendange tardive (VT) means late harvest in French and refers to a style of dessert wine where the grapes are allowed to hang on the vine until they start to dehydrate. This concentrates the sugars in the juice. Sélection de grains noble (SGN) are even sweeter wines. The name means “selection of noble berries” which refers to wines made from grapes affected by noble rot—a very welcome rot for grapes. Here’s more about it.

    †Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affects a crop’s qualities. It includes climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type, and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics give a fruit or vegetable its unique character.

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