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Pinot grigio or gris – what’s in a name?

David Williams
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Josten & Klein Schiefer Grauburgunder, Mittelrhein, Germany 2018 (from £21,;; It’s funny to think that, just a few years back, German producers would have thought twice about using the word ‘grauburgunder’ on their labels in the UK. In the 2000s and early 2010s, German wine was still suffering from its association with Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun et al, and most British wine drinkers harboured prejudices about the sort of wine you’d find with such a Germanic-sounding moniker (even if it had nothing to do with those sweet and sickly brands). Indeed, some German producers opted to use the Italian name for the grape instead – understandable since Italian pinot grigio was among the most popular white wines around. These days, the opposite is probably true: waves of watery, not very interesting wines have turned a lot of people against Italian pinot grigio, while German wine’s reputation has been rising steadily. And, really, the style of Josten & Klein’s example, with its fleshy mouthfilling quince and mineral-freshening acidity, could not be more different from those run-of-the-mill PGs.

Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris & Blanc, Santa Maria Valley, California, USA 2018 (£25.95, It’s not just the Germans who have a different name for pinot grigio: in France’s Alsace region the variety is known as pinot gris. Generally speaking, these are made in a style much closer to German grauburgunder than to your average Italian supermarket grigio: in wines such as Cave de Turckheim Pinot Tradition 2018 (from £10.99,; and the intense, complex Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2018 (£20.50,, you will find classic Alsace gris characters of baking spice, baked pear and a mouthfilling richness that makes the style so good with aromatic spiced dishes such as pork belly with five spice or, in Alsace itself, ham hock with choucroute. When you see pinot gris on the label anywhere in the world, it usually means the producer is aiming at something like the Alsace style – as is the case with the great Californian winemaker Jim Clendenen’s lusciously luminous combination of pinots gris and blanc.

Bottega Vinai Pinot Grigio, Trentino, Italy 2019 (from £10.75,; Where once it was importers of German wine who were cursed with an uphill propaganda mission, now it’s importers of top-quality Italian pinot grigio who are having to battle with stereotypes. There’s long been a touch of snobbery about some of the dismissal of pinot grigio: the same people who like to say chardonnay in a mocking Essex accent started doing the same with pinot grigio once it began to take off in the 2000s. It’s true that, at its worst, PG can be dispiritingly bland and industrial, tasting weakly of pear drops. But, in the Alpine reaches of far northern Italy there are some wonderfully expressive, exquisitely balanced dry white wines made from the variety. Wines such as the local co-operative Cavit’s graceful, almond-blossom-scented Bottega Vinai or the exotically fruited, multilayered Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Riserva Giati, Alto-Adige 2017 (£24.45, are every bit as full of character as the best pinot gris or grauburgunder.

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