Pinot is a grape that never seems to stop reinventing itself. Pinots have been popular for centuries, and Pinot Noir seems to always be making the top 10 list of most popular wines in the world, besides the fac that the Pinot grapes are notoriously difficult to grow.
But what about it’s cousin, Pinot Grigio? Although not such a superstar as Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio is still an exquisite wine. Today, we’ll cover the differences between the two.
Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio: Main Differences
If you are interested in learning about all the nuances of wine made from Pinot grapes and the different varieties of it, keep reading this article. However, if you are looking for a quick rundown of the differences between Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, you’ll find it right here:
- Pinot Noir is categorized as a red wine (although it can often be very light in colour compared to other red wine varieties) while Pinot Grigio is considered a white wine.
- Pinot Noir is the older variety. This is one of the oldest known grape varieties with the earliest records coming from the time of the arrival of the Romans to Burgundy. Pinot Grigio is a younger (but still quite ancient) brother of Pinot Noir – it first appeared in the 14th century.
- Pinot Grigio is more acidic than Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is known for its high tannin content but low acidity compared to other Pinots.
- Pinot Noir is one of the most popular wines world-wide. Pinot Grigio is more of a niche product.
- Pinot Grigio goes better with seafood while Pinot Noir pairs well with meat.
The Meaning of the Word ‘Pinot’
Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are not the same at all. After all, one is a red wine and the other is white. However, people often tend to mix them up because of the word ‘pinot’. So what exactly does that mean and what is it all about? Well, pinot is a French word which literally means pine cone (as you might have guessed). Does that mean these grapes smell like pine? Not really. The term ‘pinot’ actually describes the shape of the grape bunches while they are growing which somewhat resemble a pine cone.
The Three Different Types of Pinot Grapes
You might or might not be surprised to learn that there are actually many more varieties of Pinot grapes than just Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. There are actually hundreds of local varieties with subtle differences that all share the same ancestors.
That being said, the most well-known pinot grape is definitely Pinot Noir, followed by Pinot Grigio and perhaps Pinot Blanc.
So these are the Pinot wines you are most likely to encounter:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Grigio
- Pinot Blanc
Pinot Blanc is actually an offspring, or a mutation of Pinot Grigio, which itself has the same origins as Pinot Noir. As we have mentioned, all the different varieties of Pinot grapes are closely related, although they do have subtle differences in flavour which makes the tasting of Pinot wines a potentially never-ending story.
Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris
If you’ve been looking for a Pinot white wine, you might have noticed that some of them say Pinot Grigio while others say Pinot Gris. Do the two names describe the same variety? Well, yes. Pinot Grigio is the Italian version of the name, while Pinot Gris is French.
Should you expect exactly the same thing from the two? Actually, not really. As you might know, factors like the geographical region, climate, and the composition of the soil can influence the flavour profile of wine. This is why there are usually slight differences between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. However, the key is not the name, but the geographical region where the wine comes from, so that’s what you should pay attention to when choosing your Pinot wine.
So what are the main differences between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris?
Well, Pinot Grigio that comes from Northern Italy tends to be more acidic with a touch of bitterness. Now, you might also encounter Pinot Grigio grown in other regions (most commonly in America). The new-world Pinot Grigio tends to be more fruity and softer than the Italian variety, but not as soft as the French Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris that originates in France, on the other hand, is characterised by a decidedly smooth and soft feel.
The History of Pinot Wine
The origins of the Pinot grape variety are disputed to this day. However, one thing is certain: this grape is very old. And by old, we mean more than a millennium – actually almost 2 millenia. According to some sources, the Pinot grape has already been cultivated in the first century AD. The earliest sources mentioning (what was probably) Pinot Noir go back to the time when Romans conquered Gaul – which is today’s France.
The second chapter of Pinot Noir history can definitely be tied to the 14th century. At the time, Philip II the Bold, the duke of Burgundy at the time, pulled a sort of a marketing stunt that connected Pinot Noir with the Burgundy region forever. Namely, under his role, the main alternative to Pinot – the Gamay grape variety was forbidden, and the exclusive cultivation of Pinot Noir was fostered.
As mentioned before, Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio) is a sport of Pinot Noir, meaning it is a variety that originated from Pinot Noir. The exact time it appeared is not known, but it is estimated to be before the year 1300. According to some sources, Pinot Gris was first cultivated in Burgundy under the name Fromenteau. Pinot Gris was known to be the favourite of various emperors, including Charles IV of Luxembourg, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it quickly spread throughout europe. It was commonly cultivated in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and even Hungary.
The high reputation of both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir didn’t seem to wane over the years and centuries. Rather, it grew constantly so the wine is very popular even today. The latest chapter in the history of Pinot could be tied to the 19th century (approximately) when the variety started being grown pretty much all over the world. Regions where PInot is grown today include (but are not limited to) Moldova, Slovenia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand (besides the obvious France and Italy where it is still a very popular variety).
Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio: Which One Is More Popular?
As you have seen in the previous section, Pinot Noir is a wine that has been quite popular for centuries – and it still hasn’t lost it’s popular status. These days, there are around 300 000 acres of Pinot Noir planted world wide (which is more than 100 000 hectares). The biggest producer of Pinot Noir is, of course, still France, but the United States, Germany, and New Zealand also produce quite a large amount.
Although not as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot (the most popular wines today), Pinot Noir still makes it in the top 10 most popular wines worldwide.
Part of the popularity of Pinot Noir also comes from the fact that it’s often used in wine blends, which is not the case with Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris), on the other hand, is grown much less than pinot Noir. According to some calculations, there are around 15 000 hectares of Pinot Grigio planted worldwide. Still, Pinot Gris has built a name for itself. Although not the most common one, it is a wine that is held in high esteem by many connoisseurs.
Italy is the biggest producer of Pinot Grigio, but France, Austria, and Argentina are not far behind. Pinot Grigio also found its way to the USA at the end of the 20th century, although it is grown in smaller amounts than Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio: Direct Comparison
So far, we’ve talked about the meaning of the names of Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, about their relationships and their history. While that’s mildly interesting, we know that you are probably here in order to find out about the characteristics of both of those wines.
Are they sweet or acidic? What do they pair well with? What is the perfect opportunity for opening a bottle of Pinot Noir, and what about Pinot Grigio? These are the questions we’ll answer in this section.
A quick note before we start: We’ve mentioned above that although Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris do essentially mean the same, there might be subtle differences in flavour. In the rest of this article, we’ll focus specifically on Pinot Grigio to avoid confusion. However, although Pinot Gris is usually a bit sweeter and smoother than Italian Pinot Grigio, most of the things said apply broadly to both options.
1. Appearance: How to Tell Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir Apart Visually
Telling Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir apart based on appearance is not difficult: one is white and one is red.
That being said, both wines are actually quite interesting when it comes to hue. Because they are clause cousins, they do resemble each other visually to some extent.
Pinot Noir is one of the lightest red wines in existence, at least when it comes to colour. Knowing that ‘noir’ means black, you might expect an extremely dark hued wine like Shiraz, but actually Pinot Noir is quite light, sometimes almost transparent. The colour of Pinot Noir is most often described as pale ruby.
Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, has a distinctive yellowish hue. Like every white wine, it is also quite pale and almost transparent.
2. Flavour Profile
Main Flavour Notes
While there is, of course, variation when it comes to flavour, Pinot Noir does always include the notes of berries like raspberries, cranberries, and cherries. Hence, very bright and not at all ‘noir’. Some varieties do offer a more complex profile with notes of vanilla and caramel (mostly acquired with aging) and sometimes even licorice, tobacco, or clove.
Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is most often characterised by the notes of citrus. It can also feature notes of various acidic fruits, like apple, nectarine, or lime. The bitter undertones of almond are quite characteristic of Italian Grigio.
Both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are considered fairly acidic wines. However, the crispness is more pronounced in the Pinot Grigio simply because it’s a white wine. Pinot Noir is also usually fairly acidic, but since it’s a red grape variety, the acidity tends to get overpowered with other notes to the point that it’s almost not noticeable.
Pinot Grigio that originates in Northern Italy is distinctively acidic – that’s one of its main characteristics. However, the crops cultivated in the USA and France (Pinot Gris in this case) tend to produce a sweeter wine.
Both in Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir the levels of acidity do vary depending on geographic origin.
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are typically categorized as dry wines. However, the softer Pinot Gris does have certain sweet notes. However, this is typically more a sweet aroma than sugary sweetness.
Tannins are what creates the distinctive taste of red wine and what gives the colour to the grape and the wine. White grape varieties, in general, are very low on tannins (although they contain some). Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are low in tannins.
Pinot Noir, on the other hand, does contain tannins. They are not overpowering to the extent that they make the wine feel overly dry. However, they are present. The tannin content of Pinot Noir has often been described as ‘silky’.
In this regard, both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are fairly light and airy. This, however, shouldn’t make you think they are flavourless. Both varieties are wines with distinctive notes and sophisticated feel.
Pinot Noir is one of the red wines with the most lightweight body, so to say. Italian Pinot Grigio is similar in this regard, offering a clean and somewhat sharp taste due to its acidity. The French and American cultivars, however, do offer a bit fuller and smoother body.
When choosing a wine, it is always important to conside what kind of food you want to pair it with. In fact, this can be one of the most important factors when choosing a new wine to buy.
So what do Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio pair well with? Here is a quick run-down:
Pinot Noir is a very versatile wine. The versatility comes from the lightness and crispness of its body. Still, if you want to to allow the Pinot Noir to really shine, you shouldn’t pair it with flavours that are too overpowering.
For example, Pinot Noir is usually the perfect accompaniment to a cheese plate. When it comes to meat, you’ll want to keep it light, although aged Pinot Noir which is a bit more complex in flaovur pairs well with chicken and even some pork dishes.
Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris is also a wine that is fairly easy to pair with different dishes. Still, you’ll want to pair it with flavours that are not too overpowering. The Italian Pinot Grigio, known for its crispness, is a great companion to light seafood dishes. Creamy dishes like Pasta Primavera are an option too, although a softer Pinot Gris from France works best in these cases.
As they are both fairly popular (although Pinot Noir is more well-known than Pinot Grigio), it shouldn’t surprise us that both of these wines come in a wide range of prices. As with most popular wines, it’s definitely possible to find a decent bottle for 20 pounds or so. However, if you want something exquisite, the prices can get sky-high, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir vs Pinot Grigio: The Differences Summarized
As you have seen in this quick guide, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are close cousins. Hence, there are quite a few similarities between the two wines, but also a few notable differences.
First of all, one is a red wine and the other is white. You might agree that its difficult to make a comparison between the two, since whites simply pair differently than reds.
Still, we can say that Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are both fairly dry but also exceptionally light wines. The complexity of the flavour will depend on the origin, but it will never be exceptionally heavy. Both wines can be characterized as bold but playful, easy to pair with different food options.
Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio Recommendations
If you’ve tried looking for a good Pinot, you might have noticed there are plenty of options to be found. How do you know which one is good? Well, as the saying goes de gustibus non est tisputandum. Still, we will offer two recommendations of each Noir and Grigio for those who are just entering the world of Pinot.
Buena Vista Winery North Coast Pinot Noir 2015
Moderately priced but with an eqsquisit bouquet. The Buena Vista North Coast Pinot Noir from 2015 is the perfect introduction to the world of Pinot. This Californian Pinot Noir is bright and playful, but also offers a certain depth. The notes of cherry and ripe berries mingle with soft cinnamon and clove notes.
Domaine Faiveley Gevrey-Chmbertin 2014
The Faiveley winery has been operating in Burgundy for almost 200 years. They are known for their Pinot Noir, and produce wines that are bold, balanced, and full of character. The Domaine 2014 Faiveley Gevrey-Chmbertin is the perfect example of a high-end Pinot Noir.
Elena Walch Pinot Grigio (Selezione)
For those looking to try the true Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy, this wine made from grapes grown in the Alto Adige region is the perfect choice. The Elena Walch Pinot Grigio brings forward some bold acidic notes described as green apple and tangerine but balances them out with a rich body. It’s definitely one of the best Gigios in the price range.
Albert Boxler Pinot Gris
In contrast to the crisp Italian Grigio, this Pinot Gris from Alasce in France shows off how smooth and luxurious Pinot Gris can be. Still fairly crisp due to the nature of the Pinot grapes, the Albert Boxler Pinot Gris brings an experience best described as off-dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir the same grape?
No, they are not, but they are closely related. Pinot Grigio is actually a sport (a mutation) of the Pinot Noir grape. One big difference between the two grapes is the appearance: while Pinot Noir grapes are fairly dark (as the name might suggest), Pinot Gris fruits are fairly light in colour, with touches of pink ad bronze.
How many Pinot varieties are there?
Quite a lot. According to some sources, there are at least 1000 varieties of the Pinot grape in existence these days. However, the Pinot wines are usually classified as Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.
What type of wine is Pinot?
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are typically described as dry wines, although Pinot Gris can often taste ‘off-dry’. These are medium-bodied wines with fairly low content of alcohol.