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The Many Faces of Pinot Grigio, From Budget-Friendly to World Beating

There’s a reason Pinot Grigio is so popular — it’s so versatile

Vicki Denig By June 23, 2022
landscape and vineyard from Venica & Venica winery
Venica's Pinot Grigio comes from a DOC Collio vineyard, and produces “Jesera” wine, a copper-coloured Pinot Grigio. Photo courtesy of Venica & Venica.

Pinot Grigio is one of the most versatile grape varieties in the world of wine. Although best known for producing budget-friendly, run-of-the-mill whites, the potential for world-class wine from this grape knows no limits. From zesty, Alpine expressions to copper-hued skin contact wines to luscious, late harvest bottlings, there’s far more to Pinot Grigio than meets the eye. Curious to learn more? Check out our guide to everything you need to know about this versatile grape, as well as five producers to buy from to truly understand its diverse spectrum of wine possibilities.

Pinot Grigio has a number of names, depending on its origin: Pinot Grigio in Italy, Pinot Gris in France, and Grauburgunder in Germany. Whatever it’s called, it’s the same grape, though there are national differences in vinification. In this article, it will be called Pinot Grigio. 

Quick Facts

  • Name: Pinot Grigio in Italy; Pinot Gris in France; Grauburgunder in Germany
  • Origin: Burgundy, France
  • Area under vine: 37,050+ acres 
  • Key regions: Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy, plus Alsace, Oregon, and Australia
  • Grape characteristics: Pink to gray skins, small clusters 
  • Acidity level: Low to medium

Where does Pinot Grigio come from?

Although most often associated with Italy, Pinot Grigio actually hails from France’s Burgundy region, where it was likely called Fromenteau. Although grown in very small quantities in Burgundy, it is now regionally referred to as Pinot Beurot. 

What kind of wine does Pinot Grigio make?

Pinot Grigio-based wines come in a variety of styles, colors, and flavor profiles. Pinot Grigio can range from nearly translucent to copper-hued in color — called Ramato style — which is achieved by vinifying the wine on its skins.

Additionally, Pinot Grigio wines fall all over the dryness/sweetness spectrums. While most bottles are vinified until they’re bone dry, immaculate dessert wines produced from late-harvest fruit provide some of the best drinking experiences on the planet. 

What are the main regions in which Pinot Grigio is grown?

Pinot Grigio is most commonly associated with the northeastern Italian regions of Veneto, including Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige. While Veneto is known for producing large amounts of budget-friendly Pinot Grigio, the latter two areas are more highly regarded for their quality. Outside of Italy, Pinot Gris has found a solid home in Oregon, as well as in the Australian regions of the Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula, and the Yarra Valley. 

Who are the benchmark producers of Pinot Grigio? 

There are a number of widely respected producers of Pinot Grigio around the world. In Italy, top names include Alois Lageder, Livio Felluga, Venica & Venica, and beyond. In Alsace, Albert Boxler, Zind-Humbrecht, and Marcel Deiss are three names to know. Elsewhere, Eyrie Vineyards and King Estate Winery Vineyards are big Oregon pioneers; Quealy Winemakers and Moorooduc Estate in the Yarra Valley, and Pipers Brook in Tasmania, Australia; in Slovenia, the Gravner expression is not to be missed. 

5 Pinot Grigio producers to buy now:

Alto Adige, Italy

Alois Lageder 

Although the Lageder’s wine industry roots date back to 1823, the family truly began establishing themselves as winemakers in 1934. It was Alois himself that shifted the family’s focus from merchants to the production side of things, as well as worked to acquire a number of prime vineyards in Alto Adige. Today, the estate is spearheaded by Alois Lageder IV and his son Alois Clemens Lageder, who represents the family’s sixth generation of wine professionals. The past few decades have brought massive shifts to the winery, with an emphasis on quality over quantity and a deep environmental consciousness. Today, vineyards are farmed with a holistic approach to viticulture, with the family leading the way for biodynamic farming in the region. Today, the Lageders own 125 acres of vines in Alto Adige, and work with fruit from an additional 270 acres farmed by over 100 environmentally-focused grape growers. 

vintners harvesting grapes at Alois Lageder winery

Alois Lageder vintners without chemical and synthetic products for plant protection and make use of biodynamic preparations. Photo courtesy of Alois Lageder winery.

bottle of Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Alto Adige

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2020 (~$14)

For an affordable and tasty overview of what Alto Adige Pinot Grigio is all about, check out this easy-to-find bottle from Alois Lageder. The fruit for this wine is fermented and aged in steel so as to preserve its natural freshness. On the palate, the wine strikes the perfect balance between spiciness, smokiness, and fruit flavors. Fair warning, this could be your next go-to bottle of house white.

bottle of Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Porer 2019

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Porer 2019 (~$25)

While the above Pinot Grigio offers an excellent oversight into what the Alto Adige region is all about, this higher-end cuvée from Lageder is produced from fruit picked from select vineyard parcels in Malgrè. These vines are slightly older—10 to 30 years in age—which leads to deeper fruit complexity. This wine also sees partial skin contact and is vinified 20% in wooden casks, both of which add texture and weight to this juicy, nutty, and utterly delicious wine. 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

Venica & Venica

Based in the heart of Collio, the crown jewel appellation of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the Venica family estate, called Ronco del Ceró, was bought by Daniele Venica in 1930. Under third-generation Giampaolo Venica’s reins, the estate grew to 99 acres, of which vineyards are planted to a number of internationally renowned varieties, including Pinot Grigio. Venica wines are known for their bright aromatics, profound texture, and little-to-no use of oak. Although the family cultivates small amounts of red grape varieties, their focus lies on crafting thought-provoking, food-friendly whites from Italy’s most underrated regions. 

bottle of Venica Jesera Pinot Grigio Collio 2020

Venica Jesera Pinot Grigio Collio 2020 (~$22)

Jesera is Venica’s flagship Pinot Grigio and is produced in the traditional Ramato style of northern Italy, meaning that the wine sees a certain period of skin contact — in this case, four to eight hours — prior to vinification. To add to the wine’s texture, Venica then ages this cuvée on the lees for six months in a combination of steel and oak prior to bottling, which is done in conjunction with the lunar calendar. Expect a savory, pleasantly grippy wine laden with flavors of quince, red apple skin, ginger, white flowers, and a hint of pepper. 

Alsace, France

Albert Boxler 

The Boxler family story begins with Jean Boxler, a Swiss immigrant who settled in Alsace back in 1673. The family’s current generation, also named Jean, took the reins back in 1996. Today, he is credited with producing some of the most elegant and expressive varietal white wines in the world. All of the family’s vines are planted around the village of Niedermorschwihr, located in the Haut-Rhin area of France. Jean crafts all of his wines from micro-parcels of land, which let each grape variety and vineyard speak for itself. Today, his impressive lineup consists of about 30 cuvées each year, of which seven are monovarietal Pinot Gris — the fact that a few come from the grand cru Brand and fetishized area of Sommerberg is just the cherry on top. 

bottle of Albert Boxler Pinot Gris 2018

Albert Boxler Pinot Gris 2018 (~$45)

This varietal Pinot Gris from Albert Boxler is the perfect gateway bottle to what the domaine is all about. Like all Boxler whites, the fruit for this wine was hand harvested and spontaneously fermented with native yeasts. Vinification and aging for this cuvée were done exclusively in steel so as to preserve the fruit’s natural character. Expect a spicy, full-bodied wine laden with flavors of nectarine, honeysuckle, and sweet spice.   

bottle of Albert Boxler Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand 2017

Albert Boxler Pinot Gris Grand Cru 'Brand' 2017 (~$75)

Brand is one of the most — if not the most — prestigious growing sites in all of Alsace. Fruit for this grand cru Pinot Gris comes from 40-year-old vines rooted in granite, which Boxler feels is an ideal place for the grape to thrive. On the palate, the wine is complex, textured, and wildly elegant. Great dry Pinot Gris like this one are some of the most food-friendly wines on the planet, especially when paired with grilled fish, foie gras, or salty seafood with spicy sauces.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

Based in Turckheim, located within the Alsace region of France, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht was founded in 1959 upon the marriage of Léonard Humbrecht and Geneviève Zind. However, like many Alsatian domaines, the Humbrecht’s wine growing history dates back to the 17th century. Today, the estate is overseen by the couple’s son Olivier, who vinifies world-class wines from 99 acres of vines.  Of these 99 acres, 10 are planted in grand cru sites, and those crafted from non-grand cru vineyards are generally labeled by the lieu-dit from which they come – a rare choice for the general varietal-labeling region of Alsace. Zind-Humbrecht wines are produced from biodynamically farmed fruit and are known for their concentration, depth, and incredible ability to age. 

bottle of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2019

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2019 (~$27)

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht explains that until the mid-20th century, Pinot Gris was actually quite rare in Alsace — and because of this scarcity, often demanded rather high prices. However, the rise in modern clones and fast vinification caused the grape to lose its prestige, though quality-focused winemakers know exactly how to vinify this high-potential grape so as to show its best side. This bone dry expression is medium-bodied, flavor-packed, and loaded with concentrated notes of yellow plums, honey, and wet rocks. Despite its velvety smooth texture, the wine remains refreshing and bright thanks to ample amounts of zesty acidity. 

bottle of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Selection de Grains Nobles Pinot Gris 2019

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos Jebsal Selection de Grains Nobles Pinot Gris 2019 (~$50)

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht has long played a standard-bearing role for concentrated Alsatian white wines on both the dry and sweet spectrums. Because residual sugar levels can drastically vary from vintage to vintage, Zind-Humbrecht began labeling their wines with a number from one to five, with one being the driest and five being the sweetest. This Sélection de Grains Nobles is produced from grapes partially affected by botrytis and is generally made in small quantities. This luscious sweet wine is palate coating and dense, yet energetic acidity keeps the wine salivating and intriguing. For those skeptical of sweet Pinot Gris, this noble wine promises an ah-ha moment with the style. 

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Note: this is a half-bottle

Oregon

King Estate Winery Vineyard

King Estate was founded in 1991 by Ed King Jr., a former designer of Navy Aircraft electronics during the second World War. He instilled a passion for wine in his son, also named Ed, who happened to have two small vineyards on his farmland property. Over the next few years, the father-and-son duo acquired 100 acres of vines across Oregon and officially produced their first vintage wine in 1995. Today, King Estate is the largest certified biodynamic vineyard in all of North America, which according to the family, is “more than a trend — it’s a way of life.” The estate also owns vineyards in Washington State and continues to be a leading pioneer of sustainable and innovative winemaking.

King Estate vineyard in Willamette Valley

King Estate vineyard in Willamette Valley. Photo courtesy of King Estate.

bottle of King Estate Pinot Gris 2021

King Estate Pinot Gris 2021 (~$17)

For those looking to dive into the world of Pinot Gris, King’s Estate bottling checks all the boxes: it’s affordable, it’s made from sustainably-farmed fruit, and it’s easy to drink. This cuvée is vinified and lees-aged for four months in steel prior to bottling and exudes flavors of peach, lime blossom, pear skin, and hints of wildflowers. For fans of Oregon Pinot Noir, this white counterpart is equally worth discovering. 

bottle of King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris 2019

King Estate 'Domaine' Pinot Gris 2019 (~$25)

While King’s entry-level Pinot Gris is produced both from estate and purchased fruit, this ‘Domaine’ cuvée is crafted entirely from certified organic and biodynamic estate-farmed Pinot Gris from the southern Willamette Valley. Like the above bottle, this wine is also vinified entirely in steel, though spends six months aging sur-lie, or on the lees, rather than four. For a thought-provoking side-by-side tasting that’s as refreshing as it is compelling, grab one of each.