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Beginner's guide: pinot grigio

Learn everything you need to know about pinot grigio. This delightful white wine is among the most popular varietals in the world.

Learn everything you need to know about pinot grigio. This delightful white wine is among the most popular varietals in the world.

What is pinot grigio

In this wonderful world of wine, there are red grapes and there are green grapes, and sometimes something a little more extreme. But when it comes to pinot grigio wine (pronounced pee-no-gree-geo), there’s just a little more than what first meets the eye – and taste buds! This fantastic white wine varietal, also known as pinot gris, is among the most sought-after concoctions among true oenophiles. And despite it being a white wine, it comes from blueish-grey grapes (“grigio” means grey). That’s just one of the many unexpected qualities of this exciting extract. This plucky yet light-bodied elixir has an acidic citrus signature with tones of green apple, honeysuckle, and melon which cleanse the palate in the same moment it imbues its complex qualities.

The perfectly refreshing wine for a hot summer day, pinot grigio originated in the Burgundy region of France but came into its own once the grape made its way to Northern Italy. From there, its popularity has spread to winemakers from California to New Zealand. Where chardonnay is creamy and grassy, pinot grigio is tart and easy on the tongue. Rieslings tend to be far sweeter and sauvignon blancs lean towards a more grapefruit-like profile. Not that any of those are undesirable traits! But know what you’re getting yourself into – not all whites are like, after all. In fact, not all pinot grigios are alike! The coveted Alto Adige, for example, comes from an area with a singular microclimate, producing distinctive tones of Alpine herbs and ripe pears in the mix from its peculiar vineyards. That’s really the fun of it – tasting all the fine PGs the world has to offer. But if you can’t find a pinot grigio, consider these alternatives: the Spanish Albariño or the Italian Arnes.

How pinot grigio is made

There’s something special about each and every varietal, and in that way, pinot grigio is no different. Partial to cooler climates, maturation happens quicker than with many other wines, leading to a fairly high sugar value. During the processing of the wine, the greyish skins are removed, as are the stems, leaving behind the more colorful tones and leaving a white in its wake. This recipe explains why this particular tradition results not in a red wine, but in a clear, golden glass which almost presages the relief the drinker experiences when mouthing a nice cup. Despite this coveted quality, grigios are often blended with pinot noir to mellow the product's acidity. Fortunately, this traditional red wine doesn’t interfere with the white wine characteristics.

How to pair

As an acidic white, certain foods simply pair perfectly with the pinot grigio. Start with a nice antipasto, especially when it comes as a vegetable cornucopia, or with seafood fare such as ceviche. Move on to the pasta portion of your meal and be sure to lean into the white sauces or perhaps even light olive oil-based bases instead of red tomato ragus. Fish dishes round out the meal with anything from sushi to a nice grilled branzino playing very nicely in your mouth with the PG. Fruit tarts and tiramisu also work very well with the white varietal, neither overpowering the delicious desserts nor getting lost in them.

There’s always plenty of good Pinot Grigios to try out there, but if you want to try some of the best, we have a few suggestions for you. Start with the Pighin Pinot Grigio Friuli for an authentic taste of Italy’s finest traditions. Closer to home, the Four Graces estate from Oregon’s Willamette region will offer lots of tangy fruit in a very dry glass. Or if you prefer to sample something from down under, Australia’s Yalumba Y Series Pinot Grigio will fit the bill. However you wash it down, there’s a whole world of these wonderful whites to enjoy.