Top Wine Picks! The Two Faces of Pinot Gris

Here's one question you hear often from people new to wine: What's the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? They are often surprised to learn that Gris and Grigio, genetically speaking, is the same grape. It's a mutant clone of Pinot Noir that originally came from Burgundy — its name is a reference to its greyish pink skin. In France, as Pinot Gris, it's grown mostly in Alsace, and in Northern Italy, as Pinot Grigio, it's grown in Lombardy, Alto-Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

All that being said, there is good reason for wine drinkers to assume they are tasting two different grapes: stylistically, Gris and Grigio are very different. In Alsace, the grapes are harvested when they are fully ripe to produce a full, rich, spicy and sometimes unctuous wine. In Italy, the approach is often the opposite — the goal is a light wine with an emphasis on freshness and quaffability. In New World winemaking, the decision to label the bottle comes down to what style the winemaker is going for — sometimes you'll even see a winery produce and label both a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Grigio.

As the seasons shift, Pinot Gris begins to satisfy something in the cold weather that Pinot Grigio did in the summer heat. We crave the richer and spicier face of the grape, and so does our winter cuisine as more dishes come out of the oven, seasoned with baking spices.

Here are three Pinot Gris' that will hit the spot over the next four or five months:

1) Laughing Stock 2014 Pinot Gris - Laughing Stock's Pinot Gris has been a favourite of mine for years. This is a wine that showcases the beautiful texture Pinot Gris can offer. The fruit is sourced from three sites on the Naramata Bench and one in Okanagan Falls. The wine is aged in a mix of neutral oak, stainless steel, and concrete eggs, and it spends five months aged sur lie. Citrus and spice with some tropical fruit notes. ($22.00/14.5% alcohol)

2) Haywire 2013 Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris - Haywire and Okanagan Crush Pad have been up to so many cool and exciting things since I left BC, and I'm thrilled to get acquainted with the wines again. This Gris comes from the winery's home vineyard (Switchback Vineyard), which, after four years of transitioning, is certified organic. The wine is aged in concrete eggs. It's bright and fresh, but still has the trademark Gris texture, as well as pithy citrus characters and a stony minerality. ($24.90/13.6% alcohol)

3) Keint-he 2014 Pinot Gris - From Keint-he in Prince Edward County, comes a Gris with the County's signature minerality and acidity. It's lighter and leaner in body than the previous two from the Okanagan, but it's barrel fermented to add texture as well as spice and vanilla characters. You'll also find ripe peach and spiced pear notes. ($25.00/12% alcohol)


Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.