Currently undergoing a surge of popularity, as much for the moderately fresh and innocuous styles of wine it is capable of when high yielding and reductively handled, as for the ease with which the name slips off the tongue, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, is a grape variety of the moment. So much so that it has become the most widely consumed varietal white wine in the United States after Chardonnay, with rising popularity in the United Kingdom and elsewhere auguring well for a bright future, at least in sales' terms.
In Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent in Chile, the terms 'Gris' and 'Grigio' are used by winemakers to differentiate between the stylistic equation of ripe, semi-aromatic and viscous wines, inspired by Alsatian Pinot Gris; or simple and sprightly expressions, in a northern Italian vein. Indeed, these two interpretations, with some regional nuances in between, serve as the parameters that shape a grape variety of many guises.
Pinot Gris' variability is such that it can appear as pinky grey, to a mottled blue, on the vine. Its acidity is modest, alcohol-certainly in Alsace-high, and texture broad to the point of unctuous. At times, when left to hang under the right conditions, it takes benignly to botrytis, or noble rot. This serves to accentuate fruit sweetness and acidity, giving an often neutral grape variety exotic leanings, as well as premium price points.
In Italy, the sea of unremarkable wine, largely from the Veneto, is responsible for the cash cow of Grigio, from supermarket shelves to mainstream wine-lists. In the north-east, particularly in Friuli, it is frequently made with guile and lots of tangy lees, imbuing its wines with a resinous tang. In the Alto-Adige and Austria, under the guise of Rülander, it is rendered simply, yet with bright aromatics that are a world away from the innocuous and high-yielding Veneto expressions. It also shows weight, power and complexity under the aegis of Bäden's finest producers, in Germany. There it is known as Gräuburgunder.