The tasting was interesting in that it showed multiple differences between the two pinot gris (grigio) versions, as would be expected. Those differences were caused (in part) by terroir and by the respective winemakers. During the tasting discussion, I pointed out that pinot grigio and pinot gris were the same grape variety, and the difference in name stemmed from regional preferences. I compared the names to the shiraz/syrah in order to help my crew use a familiar reference to understand the concept. Unfortunately a lot of them are still very intimidated by wine and think it's far too complex to ever comprehend.
|img src http://wine-flair.com/|
After making my comparison, my boss, who considers himself/herself knowledgeable about wine, said I was wrong about pinot gris/grigio and that they were cousins. He claimed to have read it in a book and held up his fingers an inch apart to imply it was somehow an authoritative tome about wine. Now this went contrary to everything I've learned about wine, but I was interested in what he had to say because I've been wrong many times before. He said that in his authoritative tome, the author wrote that pinot grigio and pinot gris were cousins, akin to the zinfandel-primititivo relationship, or at least what we used to think of the zinfandel-primitivo relationship.
I texted my friend Becky at Kramer Vineyards with the question, who confirmed what I originally believed and also pointed out that years ago, pinot grigio was the name used for cheaper versions of the wine whereas pinot gris was an attempt to take it up-market. After relaying this back to my boss, I was now informed that the Italians grow a clone of pinot grigio and he cited Wikipedia as his source. Again this seemed a bit off, something I hadn't heard much if anything about, but I didn't want to challenge him in front of any coworkers.
Back to Becky I went, with the new factoid, then she said she'd ask her sister Kim, the winemaker at Kramer Vineyards. Kim and I went back and forth on Facebook and I'll post that below.
Kim: "Becky tells me you're looking for comments on the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio?"
Beau: "Yea I was wondering, we had a question about it at work, whether they're the same grape with a different name or are genetic cousins the way Zin and Primitivo are."
Kim: "Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape. Although, I believe Pinot Grigio implies a lighter, crisper, and often drier style (Italian grigios are more austere) than most of the Pinot Gris made here.
I believe the US producers who use grigio rather than gris are doing so primarily because of marketing. However, I would expect a wine that is labeled 'Grigio' to be light and crisp as opposed to the textural, fruity Alsatian Pinot Gris."
Beau: "So genetically they're the same, are there any clonal differences like pinot noir has? Reason I ask is that my boss claims to have read a wine book saying that they're cousins, I think he's wrong. I've never heard that before and have always been told it's a regional name difference and an implied stylistic difference."
Kim: "I think he's wrong too. There are different clones of Pinot Gris, but I am unsure as to what they are or where they are grown. I don't know what clones we grow here. I've never heard a single winemaker discuss clonal selection of Pinot Gris, so perhaps they aren't particularly important. My experience with Pinot Noir is that terroir and winemaking style often trump clonal differences in the finished wines anyway. My suspicion is that the Italian grigios are so austere because the Italians prefer them that way, like most of their whites. So, unless there has been some groundbreaking genetic research in the last few years that I'm completely ignorant of, your boss is mistaken."
Kim gave me permission to quote her in this blog post, so I thank her for taking the time to answer my questions. After emailing with Kim I also posted the question to my Twitter followers and got a couple of responses, they are below:
ReturnToTerroir: Transalpine brotha. Same grape.
KramerWine5 (Trudy Kramer): Pinot Gris is the same thing as Pinot Grigio. French vs. Italian wording. PG is a mutation of Pinot Noir.
KramerWine5 (Trudy Kramer): Pinot Gris has many other names throughout Europe.
Grooner: Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for "Grey Pinot"; Pinot Gris is the French. In Austria, it is Grauburgunder.
Again this basically confirmed that pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape, not cousins like my boss thinks.
My point isn't to say that I'm right and he's wrong, it's that there is a lot of false information out there even in wine books. For example, out of the wine books I own, one slightly older version says that primitivo and zinfandel are cousins, whereas a newer book says that they're genetically the same, and I've been told that primitivo is the grandfather of zinfandel by a Master of Wine before. Just goes to show you, there is information out there but you should take it all with a grain of salt.