FAQ: Where does the “Grigio” come from in Pinot Grigio?

Pinot_Gris_closeFAQ: Doesn’t “grigio” mean “grey”?  Aren’t Pinot Grigio wines white…?  Where does the name come from?

Short Answer: Pinot Grigio, is technically a “grey” grape!  Its wines range in style from pale lemon to deep gold to orange.

Longer Answer:  There are three color categories of grape varietals: white, grey, and black.  White varietals include the likes of Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and Sauvignon Blanc while black varietals include grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Merlot.  Some grapes have a coloration that is somewhere in between, hence where the “grey” term comes from.  Pinot Grigio is one of these.  While the “grey” in the grey grape varietal classification can sometimes be literal, it isn’t always.  Grey varietals can have spotty pigment (meaning that the bunch of grapes is not uniformly one color) or have actual spots on them. Sometimes whole berries in one bunch might be darker, or orangeish, and yes, sometimes greyish in color.

Pinot_Gris_glasses1Because the juice of any grape is colorless (with a few grape exceptions like Tannat), the color of the wine comes partially (but primarily) from skin contact or lack thereof.  Red wine production generally involves juice being in contact with the (black grape) skins for longer periods than other wine styles, resulting in more color being extracted from the skins and coloring the resulting wine.  White and rosé wine production tends to have less skin and juice contact, resulting in paler wines that may be any color from lemon-green or gold to pink or salmon.  This is why Pinot Grigio, “grey” as it may be, can yield wines that are quite pale and why non-rosé Champagnes are not especially pink or red despite the fact they are made with one or two black grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier).

Fun Fact:  The “Pinot” in grape varietal names comes from the French word for “Pine cone”, referring to the shape of the grape bunch.  So Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero literally means “black pine cone” and Pinot Grigio literally means “grey pine cone”.

palazzone_pgOrange Wines:  Orange wines result when non-black grape varietals are vinified more according to a red wine method (i.e. with more skin contact).  The results are interesting, complex, and definitely worth trying.  Recent media attention to orange wines might incorrectly or unintentionally suggest that they are merely a new wine fad.  But the reality is that this is a method/style of wine with very old roots that still characterizes a lot of the wines of the world. Italian vineyards Palazzone in Umbria and Denavolo Catavela in Emilia Romagna make very nice examples.

Fun Facts:  Common synonyms of Pinot Grigio are Pinot Gris, Grauburgunder, and Auxerrois Gris.

The Pinot Particularity:  We have a lot of different grapes with “Pinot” in their names.  They are in fact all (genetically speaking) the same grape varietal.  Yes, this means that Pinot Grigio/Gris, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Blanc are all actually different mutations of one grape: Pinot Noir.  In fact, Chardonnay is a proud member of this Pinot family (confirmed by DNA analysis in 1999), being sometimes formally called “Pinot Chardonnay”!

Aubrie Talarico

UPDATES:  Meunier, a French grape most associated with sparkling wine production, has been incorrectly called Pinot Meunier for centuries.  Genetic mapping has only recently discovered that we were mistaken to think that it was part of the Pinot Family.  For that reason, I’ve changed it to its more accurate name Meunier here.

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4 Responses to FAQ: Where does the “Grigio” come from in Pinot Grigio?

  1. Valerie Rice says:

    Interesting read! 😀

  2. Pingback: A Grape By Any Other Name: Traminer Aromatico & Gewurztraminer | Veni Vidi Vino – Italian Wine and Wine Culture

  3. Pingback: Italian Wine Regions: Abruzzo | Veni Vidi Vino – Italian Wine and Wine Culture

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