When foodies seek light, crisp, lively white wines to go with light summer meals, they often turn to pinot grigio and pinot gris.
These are simple wines, made for easy sipping, not serious contemplation. They’re best served cool, to emphasize their crispness, and within a year or two of being made, to catch their freshness.
They’re usually inexpensive. When they’re good, they’re fruity and fun. And even when they’re not perfectly made, they’re seldom worse than lean, tart and inoffensive, which makes them safe choices when you encounter over-inflated prices on a wine list.
They’re soaring in popularity. California pinot grigio, for example, quadrupled its vine acreage between 2001 and 2012, according to the California Grape Acreage Report.
A small problem: They can be hard to figure out unless you keep a couple of things in mind. First, pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape. The word “pinot” comes from the French term for pine cone – probably because of the shape of the grape bunches. Pinot grigio means “gray pinot” in Italian. Pinot gris means the same thing in French.
Even though the grape is slightly pink.
To make things worse, the grape, by either name, is a mutation of pinot noir, which means “black pinot,” even though that grape is purple, and makes the famous red wines of France’s Burgundy region, California and elsewhere.
To boot, even though pinot grigio and pinot gris are the same grape, they can make quite different wines.
Pinot grigio comes mostly from cool northern Italy, and makes a lean, crisp, light-bodied wine with aromas and flavors of citrus and minerals.
Pinot gris, especially from France’s Alsace region, is richer, lusher, often lightly sweet, with rich, spicy flavors of melons and tropical fruit.
Producers in California, New Zealand and elsewhere usually signal which style they’re going for by which name they choose.
Pinot grigio goes well with seafood and simple chicken dishes, chips and dip, cheese and crackers and other light dishes. Pinot gris is more full-bodied, so it goes with pasta with creamy sauces and heartier fish and chicken dishes.
• 2013 Nobilissima Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie, IGT, Italy (85 percent pinot grigio, 10 percent garganega, 5 percent moscato): light and crisp, with floral aromas; $14.
• 2013 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand: aromas of ripe apples and honey, intense flavors of tropical fruit and spice; $17.
• 2013 J Vineyards Pinot Gris, California: lush and fruity, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and citrus; $16.
• 2013 MacMurray Ranch Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley: aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, pears and apples, rich and full-bodied; $20.
• 2012 Da Luca Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie, IGT, Italy: light, crisp and lean, with aromas and flavors of ripe apples, lemons and spice; $13.
• 2012 Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio “Mongris,” Friuli, Italy: floral aromas, rich and full-bodied, with golden apple flavors; $18.
• 2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio, California.: floral aromas, flavors of ripe melons, light and lively; $10.
• 2013 Chloe Pinot Grigio, Valdadige DOC, Italy: floral aromas, flavors of peaches and apples,lively; $17.
• 2013 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Grigio, California Central Coast: crisp, with flavors of golden apples and citrus; $11.
• 2013 La Crema Pinot Gris, Monterey: light and crisp and lively, with creamy body and aromas and flavors of citrus, peaches and minerals; $20.