California vs. Italian Pinot Grigio

Alpine Italy and Northern California aren’t exactly twin locales, but both produce some of the most beloved Pinot Grigio wine in the world. Hillside vineyards in both destinations coupled with cooler, though still temperate climates create optimal growing conditions for Vitis vinifera grapes. Yet these regions produce Pinot Grigio wines with distinctions worth noting.


When it comes to body and color…


The Italian Pinot Grigio can often be identified by looking at the bottle. These wines are often very pale in color—almost like water with halo. The faint straw color is a hallmark of Italian pinot Grigio, indicating the crisp, dry and light-bodied character of the wine. Distinguish this from a Chardonnay or Riesling, which may tend more toward a cloudier gold. Generally, Italian Pinot Grigio is light-bodied.


The body of a California Pinot Grigio is typically (though not always) slightly heavier than its Italian cousin, but its still undeniably light. Because of the fruit qualities and aging processes, you might expect these wines to have hints of orange and pink, creating a deeper color. Generally, California Pinot Grigio is medium-bodied.


When it comes to flavor profile…


Sweet and sour might be the most succinct way to characterize Italian Pinot Grigio. The lower yield growing seasons coupled with slightly cooler climates makes for Pinot Grigio with a sweet taste at the front, followed by a bright and acidic finish. These wines are refreshing and pair excellently with fish and vegetable dishes.


Honeyed citrus with a dry finish is the classic profile of a California Pinot Grigio. These classically balanced wines showcase some of the best features of California whites, with floral and fruit notes that leave you with a clean palate. Serve it up with poultry, fish, or veggies, or simply a hearty salad.


What they have in common…

Despite their differences, Italian and California Pinot Grigio both pair excellently with salty dishes that need a clean and fruity accompaniment. Feature both at your next party as a starter wine with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres that include cured meats and creamy cheeses, and invite your guests to note the subtle differences. These wines go particularly well with charcuterie because they offer a fruity counterpoint to the savory breads and meats.

In either region, these grapes are best suited to cooler, temperate weather and longer growing seasons. This allows Pinot Grigio grapes to develop the complexity and layers of flavor that may be less apparent in a bright, acidic sauvignon blanc, for example. Warm, fresh soil is a must. The longer the grape is on the vine, the more mellow and balanced the floral and fruit notes will be.

If you’re looking for a balanced, yet flavorful wine that offers intensity with a slightly lighter body, make it a point to add more pinot grigio (or pinot gris!) to your life.