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Pinot gris or pinot grigio - two sides of the same coin

Friday - 7/13/2012, 8:03pm  ET

Scott Greenberg,

WASHINGTON - Last week we talked about the allure and versatility of pinot blanc wines.

I received an interesting email from a reader asking me if pinot gris and pinot grigio were wines made from the same grape, and if either of them are related to pinot blanc.

A perfectly legitimate question.

As it turns out, pinot grigio and pinot gris are actually the same white wine grape, just with two different names. And while pinot gris/grigio is not technically related to pinot blanc, it is thought to be a mutation of the pinot noir grape just as pinot blanc is - so I guess they share a distant parent.

When pinot gris is fully ripened it makes a golden yellow to blush colored wine. It is very popular in Alsace, France where it is sought after for both its bright, clean flavors as well as the dessert wines made from late harvest grapes, called Vendange Tardive.

The confusion over the name is a result of where the grapes are grown. For example, in Italy and California, wines produced from the grape are called pinot grigio, however, in France, Canada and Oregon it's referred to as pinot gris. The main difference in the style is a result of the climates the grapes are grown in and how the wines are produced. In Italy, pinot grigio tends to be dry, with a citrus-centric core and a minerally finish. In France, the wines lean more towards stone fruits and white flowers. Both styles are found throughout the grape-growing world, so it's just a matter of finding the variety that appeals to your palate. Retail prices are approximate.

In 1870, Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino had a dream of starting a winery dedicated to making the best wines possible from Tuscan grapes. Today, the Folonari family runs the winery and their 2009 Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio from Venezia, Italy steals the show with an aromatic nose of orange blossom, grapefruit and pineapple. Crisp notes of nectarine, peach and lemon/lime fill the mouth while bracing acidity keeps the finish fresh and lively. $10

For six centuries, the Albrecht family has been making wine in Alsace, so they know a thing or two about pinot gris. Their 2010 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvée Romanus from Alsace is one of the most well-known white wines from that region. The intense bouquet explodes with scents of white flowers, juicy stone fruits and wet stone. This extraordinarily easy-drinking wine emphasizes flavors of nectarine, white peach and melon highlighted by abundant acidity. Citrus notes provide a tangy and refreshing finish. $18

Oregon was the first state in America to grow pinot gris and Adlesheim was one of the first wineries to make it a regular part of their portfolio. Their 2011 Adelsheim Pinot Gris is the 28th vintage they have produced in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The nose is full of ripe green apple, melon and honeysuckle aromas. The slightly creamy mouthfeel supports luscious flavors of green apple, pear and tropical fruit. The textured finish is long and crisp with hints of tangerine acidity on the back of the palate. $22

J Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, California is known for their refreshing sparkling wines, but their 2010 J Vineyards "Cooper Vineyard" Pinot Gris may just change that. Blessed with a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon meringue pie and apricot on the nose and a succulent mouthfeel featuring flavors of tropical fruit, kiwi and honeydew melon, this wine is an elegant version from first sip to last impression. The hint of orange clove honey on the finish is particularly memorable. $26

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