Pinot Grigio is a grape varietal popular in Italy and growing in popularity throughout the rest of the world. It has fairly pink skin, imparting a rich color to the white wines it is used in producing. Unlike most wine grapes, which have a uniform green flesh, the flesh of Pinot Grigio is nearly white, with a grey cast giving rise to its name. The wine is widely believed to be a clone of Pinot Noir, related to Chardonnay.
Pinot Grigio is also known as Pinot Gris in other parts of the world, particularly in France, where it is grown primarily the Alsace region. In the United States, demand for Italian Pinot Grigio has skyrocketed in recent years, outstripping the demand for Chianti and leading Pinot Grigio to be the number one imported Italian wine. This phenomenon has been replicated throughout the world on a lesser scale: more than three million cases of Pinot Grigio are produced in Italy annually, as opposed to under 15,000 in the 1970s.
Most Pinot Grigio is on the lower-end of both the price and production spectrum, with a great deal less care going into its creation than that of the great Italian reds. This holds true in many wine regions, though a number of wineries in Oregon have taken Pinot Grigio to the next level and created some truly spectacular examples of this grape.
The grape may be prepared in a fairly wide range of styles, and different regions produce extremely different varieties of Pinot Grigio wines. The classic Italian Pinot Grigio is a very light wine, with little complexity and a bit of acid. The Pinot Grigio out of Alsace, in contrast, can be positively full-bodied, with botanical notes and an extremely high alcohol content. Oregon wines made from Pinot Grigio tend to fall somewhere between these two extremes, adding ripe fruit flavors throughout, especially of melon.
Pinot Grigio is also used in some regions, particularly parts of Germany, to produce a sweeter wine. It is one of those wines that is susceptible to the noble rot, allowing it to be used to create the ultra-sweet desert wines which always have a steady market.
Pinot Grigio is usually best drunk young, losing much in aging. Some of the Oregon examples of this wine are built for longer life, and many of the Alsace varieties can become substantially better through aging, but these exceptions are few and far between.