Though the spelling is different and the bottles are usually in different sections of the wine store, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape. Not only that, but they’re also the same grape as Auvergne Gris, Baratszinszoeloe, Fromentot, Spinovy Hrozen and Zelenak, as well as at least 105 other aliases, including (my favorite) Ouche. And why someone in the United States hasn’t started producing California Ouche, I certainly don’t know.
But until the time comes when you can ask for a crisp Fromentot to pair with your Kumamotos on the half shell, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the names to know. Translate either one and the result is "gray Pinot," which makes perfect sense: The skins of this grape have a hue ranging from gray-blue to coppery orange, and the grape itself is a mutation of Pinot Noir.
Although the variety originated in France, Pinot Gris/Grigio is now planted pretty much anyplace that isn’t too hot in summer and that has long, cool autumns. Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, tends to be full-bodied and unctuous, full of spice notes and peach and apricot flavors; Northern Italian Pinot Grigios are bright, light and zippy, with white peach or nectarine flavors and tingly acidity. New World versions are essentially divided into these two styles, and the wines tend to be labeled Gris or Grigio accordingly.
I tasted 82 Pinot Gris and Grigios to come up with the wines recommended here, and one thing that quickly became clear is that the Gris/Grigio choice really comes down to personal preference. My suggestion is to think in terms of what’s on the table: For light-fleshed fish and shellfish, salads and so on, lean toward Pinot Grigio, whose bright acidity also makes it a nice match with goat cheese; for creamy soups, rich fish like salmon, roasted chicken and even pork dishes, Pinot Gris is the better pairing. The recipes that follow, from Grace Parisi in the F&W Test Kitchen, represent one of each type.
2005 Borgo Maddalena Delle Venezie ($13)
This joint project from wine importer Paolo Domeneghetti and Friuli’s Fantinel family produces a range of high-quality, affordable wines—for instance, this lithe, tangy white.
2005 Russiz Superiore ($20)
Friulian producer Marco Felluga created the Russiz Superiore brand for the wines from his vineyards in the Collio region, like this refreshing, citrusy Pinot Grigio.
2006 J Russian River Valley ($20)
Sparkling-wine producer J makes one of the finest California Pinot Gris. A percentage of the wine is aged in oak, which probably accounts for the exotic hints of allspice and ginger.
2005 Domaine Stirn Cuvée Prestige Sigolsheim ($22)
This family-owned Alsace producer has been fashioning wines in the tiny town of Sigolsheim since 1450, among them this honeysuckle-scented cuvée.