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Wine Guide: Pinot Grigio

For many wine lovers, the all-encompassing, vino-consuming obsession started with snooping into their parents' wine cabinet, grabbing the biggest bottle of wine they could get their hands on, and running for the hills. More likely than not, that bottle was made of good old Pinot Grigio.

And it's true; for far too long, Pinot Grigio was associated with mass-produced, cheap bulk wine designated for inexpensive magnums, sangria concoctions, and classic bag-in-box college drinking games. However, when done right, Pinot Grigio has a lot to offer. The grape's strong aromatics and zesty acidity not only make the bottles super easy to drink, but allow the grape to produce wines in a broad array of styles. Believe it or not, Pinot Grigio can be dry and mineral-driven, zesty and fruit forward, deliciously sugary sweet, or even a special type of rosé. Don't worry, we'll explain.

Grigio vs. Gris -- What's the Difference?:
First and foremost, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same thing. Contrary to popular belief, Pinot Grigio was actually born in Burgundy, France, not Italy, where it went by the name Pinot Gris. 'Grigio' is simply the Italian word for gray, hence the eventual transition of the name.

However, many renowned regions for the grape (think Alsace, Oregon, and New Zealand) refer to the variety by its original title. It's also important to know that Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc are not the same thing. However, both are mutations of the Pinot Noir grape. Whereas Pinot Blanc is a white-skinned grape and Pinot Noir is a dark-skinned grape, Pinot Gris/Grigio finds itself somewhere in between, draped in gorgeous bluish-violet skins.

Regional Recognition :
Wines produced from the Pinot Grigio/Gris grape are extremely particular to the regions from which they come. Most Pinot Grigio on the market comes from northeastern Italy, specifically the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions. These bottles are generally light-bodied, zesty, and easy to drink, making them a gateway for many future wine-lovers. Head slightly north to Trentino Aldo Adige, and the wines begin to change. Cooler temperatures and higher elevations drive the bottles to become more mineral and complex, with juicy stone-fruit and blossom flavors. You might pay a few dollars more, but we promise you it's worth it.

Head east to France's Alsace region and things dramatically change, far beyond just the name of the grape. Here, Pinot Gris is produced in medium to full bodied styles, with a signature spicy twist to the wines. Flavors of honeyed apples and crisp yellow fruit dominate the bottles, with spicy notes adding texture and complexity to the wines. With Alsatian Pinot Gris, reading the label is key; wines labeled 'Pinot Gris' and 'Grand Cru' will be less sweet than those labeled 'Vendange Tardive,' AKA, late-harvest.

Many New World Pinot Gris producing regions, such as Australia, Oregon, and New Zealand, are characterized by their dry, fruit-forward expressions of the grape. Citrus, stone fruit, and apple flavors will be present, due to the grape's exposure to sunnier, warmer weather (see Old World vs. New World for further explanation.) The wines could be barrel or steel aged, on or off the lees; again, reading labels with PG is key.

Pink Pinot Grigio-- Say What?:
And that random, rosé style of Pinot Grigio? Introducing Ramato, northeastern Italy's unique expression of Pinot Grigio. Hailing from Friuli, Ramato style rosés are characterized by their savory notes of baked apple, tangy citrus, and spice. For Ramato, winemakers will macerate the violet-hued skins with the grapes' clear juice, imparting an orangey, copper shade to the wine. Though the wines are few and far between, we highly recommend grabbing a bottle if you see one-- this definitely isn't your everyday, 'summer water' rosé.

PG - The Most Underrated Food & Wine Pairing Variety :
Because of its broad array of styles, pairing food with Pinot Grigio is both simple yet complicated; the former, in that there's definitely a style of PG out there for almost every dish on the planet, yet tricky in figuring out which one to choose. For lighter-bodied, high acid bottles (think Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Pinot Grigio is killer with shellfish and raw-bar style aperitifs. For medium-bodied expressions from Trentino, we love the wines fattier fish and light pasta dishes. Fresh and fruity New World bottles go gorgeously with green salads, pesto sauces, and grilled chicken with veggies. And for those sweeter style Alsatian Pinot Gris bottles, bring on the heat! Wines with residual sugar help balance out the flame in spicy dishes, making these bottles killer with Indian and Thai cuisines.

Moral of the story? Pinot Grigio is far more than just a simple bag-in-box bulk purchase. Check out a few different regions and discover the grape's full potential today!