Before picking out the best Pinot Grigio wines, it is important to understand the characteristics of Pinot Grigio and where it is grown.
Pinot Grigio is a grape and a wine of many names. It is known as Pinot Gris in France and Grauburgunder in Germany, but it is most strongly associated with Italy. Thought to have originated in France, the grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, which is why the term ‘pinot’ is included in the name. The color of the grapes ranges from pink, light blue, and grey (hence the rest of the name, which translates to ‘grey’ in French and Italian).
Although Pinot Grigio has been produced for centuries, it grew in popularity in the last 20th century and early 2000s, especially in the United States as white wine drinkers sought lighter alternatives to heavy, oaky, creamy Chardonnay.
Characteristics of the Best Pinot Grigio Wine
Pinot Grigio comes in a wide range of styles. However, the version that most wine drinkers identify with the Italian version is white wine, typically low to moderate in alcohol (12% or so abv is common).
The best Pinot Grigio has zippy high acidity, a light body, and a fairly dry finish (some examples may have a small amount of residual sugar). This style is created using minimal skin contact during fermentation, so the juice doesn’t pick up the pinky-grey color of the skins (prolonged skin contact is what creates the coppery color of Pinot Gris-style wines from Alsace, as described in more detail below). The wine is fermented at low temperatures, which ensures simple bright fruit notes.
Common aromas and flavors include lemon, green fruits such as green apple and pear, and white blossom. Examples from warmer climates may skew toward riper fruits such as peach or even tropical characteristics like pineapple.
Sweeter examples also exist and are usually labeled as such, especially in regions outside of Italy. These aren't typically the best Pinot Grigios to buy.
The wines can be fairly neutral with low flavor concentration (due to high yields in the vineyard and early harvesting), making them refreshing, uncomplicated, and easy to drink. The earlier harvest also ensures the benchmark acidity attributed to this style. It is not uncommon for a bit of Pinot Bianco (aka Pinot Blanc in France and Weissburgunder in Germany) to be blended in -- Pinot Bianco is a very neutral wine as well, making it an excellent blending partner. The grape is lighter-skinned than Pinot Grigio, helping to safeguard the pale color of the final wine.
When it comes to food and wine pairing, the old adage of ‘what grows together goes together’ is often true. Traditional Italian-style Pinot Grigio is very light, crisp, and refreshing, making it a superb pairing partner for cheese and charcuterie boards and antipasto spreads, citrus-driven seafood dishes, and lighter summer fare. Gruyere, with its salty, nutty, and slightly sweet notes, can be very nice with Pinot Grigio. Goat cheese, which is naturally higher in acidity than other cheeses, is another delectable option; the acidity in both the cheese and the wine creates a particularly harmonious partnership on the palate. It is best to avoid anything too strong in flavor, as it could easily overwhelm the wine.
Because it is more full-bodied, the best Alsatian Pinot Gris can get away with heavier pairings, including some cream sauces and a wider range of proteins.
German white asparagus is especially known to complement Grauburgunder.
Top Pinot Grigio regions
Pinot Grigio is produced throughout Italy, especially in northern Italy, particularly in the Veneto (more specifically for bulk wine produced by co-operatives). The region of Trentino-Alto Adige is known for producing the best Pinot Grigios (click here to see prices on Pinots from this region). Pinot Grigio is the most planted white grape variety in Italy and the top still white wine export.
Pinot Grigio/Gris in France
Pinot Gris is one of the ‘noble grapes’ of Alsace in northeastern France, bordering Germany. Alsace is a region known especially for sweeter styles of Pinot Gris, with the sweetness achieved either by a late harvest or the presence of botrytis (a rot that sounds bad but is actually a great thing; it removes water from the grapes and concentrates the sugars and flavors). As discussed below, Pinot Gris from this region tends to be fuller-bodied, more flavorsome and complex, and higher in alcohol than Italian Pinot Grigio.
You can check the prices on Pinot Gris from France by clicking here. Note that the prices are higher on average for French Pinot Gris vs. Italian Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Grigio In Germany/Austria
In Germany and Austria, Pinot Grigio is known as Grauburgunder. According to the official Wines of Germany site, Grauburgunder “is more prominent in Baden, Rheinhessen and the Pfalz and currently represents 6.5% of Germany's total vineyard area.” This style can fall between the Italian and French versions -- a little lighter in body and higher in acidity than Pinot Gris, yet still bigger and more multifaceted than Pinot Grigio.
Pinot Grigio/Gris is grown throughout Europe including Switzerland, Hungary, and Slovenia. These examples tend to be from mountainous regions, resulting in rather austere, mineral-driven, high acid wines.
New World Pinot Grigio
In the New World, Pinot Gris is the leading white grape in Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley. Some plantings exist in California and Washington State, although neither region is particularly known for this wine.
Another New World region to look out for is New Zealand, where plantings are on the rise and both styles of Pinot Grigio/Gris are being produced successfully. We wouldn't be surprised if this region is producing some of the best Pinot Grigios soon. Their neighbor to the west (Australia) also has some significant Pinot Grigio plantings and is gaining acclaim.
Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris
As mentioned, the names ‘Pinot Grigio’ and ‘Pinot Gris’ both refer to the same grape. Broadly speaking, Pinot Grigio is the Italian version, and Pinot Gris the French version. The different names can be used interchangeably and are often (but not always) used to indicate the style of the wine and help consumers make their selection.
Pinot Grigio is usually a pale lemon color, lighter in alcohol and body, and very citrusy and refreshing. Pinot Gris is often a deeper color, sometimes even coppery due to skin contact, more full-bodied and robust, with lower acidity and richer, more concentrated flavors. Pinot Gris will often have aromas and flavors of riper stone fruits and include a spicy element not found in Pinot Grigio. This style is more age-worthy than the Italian version -- Italian Pinot Grigio is too light to withstand bottle age and will not improve with time, but Pinot Gris can develop some interesting nutty and dried fruit notes in the cellar.
Both styles can be made at various quality levels and price points; generally speaking, the price can be another indicator of style. A lower price often means a lighter, fresher wine made for early drinking, while a higher price can indicate a more complex wine. As with all things wine, this is not a hard and fast rule.
How does Pinot Grigio differ from Chardonnay
Both Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay produce white wines, but many similarities end there.
Generally speaking, Italian-style Pinot Grigio is not going to undergo malolactic fermentation (MLF), the process that gives Chardonnay its signature buttery flavor. Furthermore, Pinot Grigio is not normally aged in oak, while this is common practice for many Chardonnay producers globally. This practice does give Chardonnay a deep golden hue, not to be confused with the coppery color found in some Pinot Gris.
Chardonnay produced in a very lean style, like those of Chablis in Burgundy, France, will have more similarities to Italian Pinot Grigio -- lighter in body and higher in acidity with lots of citrus and green fruit characteristics.
Oaked Chardonnay and Pinot Gris share a few more similarities; both are fuller-bodied and have some spice characteristics and riper fruit notes.
As mentioned previously, there are exceptions to every rule; some western United States regions are known for introducing MLF to their Pinot Grigios (here, often labeled as Pinot Gris to indicate the style), and oaked examples do exist -- but they are not nearly as popular as the more universally known light and crisp style.
5 producers of the best Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio can be found at a range of quality levels and price points, and there are some good values to be found. Due to the sharp increase in popularity in the last 30 years, many producers started making as much as they possibly could -- often sacrificing quality along the way. However, this isn’t the case for all Pinot Grigio producers, as noted below.
The top five producers in terms of popularity are as follows (listed by producer, their most popular Pinot Grigio bottling, and average retail price):
Santa Margherita, Pinot Grigio Alto Adige
As a side note, Santa Margherita is widely credited with creating the style of Pinot Grigio now synonymous with northern Italy. (click here to see current prices)
Vie di Romans, Dessimis Pinot Grigio Friuli Isonzo $33 (click to see prices)
Jermann, Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT $23 (click here to see current prices)
Zenato, Pinot Grigio delle Venezie $11 (You can click here to order a bottle)
Livio Felluga, Pinot Grigio Colli Orientali del Friuli $25 (See current prices by clicking here)
Additionally, the top five producers in terms of accolades are:
- Vie di Romans, Dessimis Pinot Grigio Friuli Isonzo $33. This wine also appeared on the most popular list above and is worth seeking out!
- Primo Estate Joseph, d'Elena Pinot Grigio $22. The first non-Italian wine on the list, this producer is based in Mclaren Vale, Australia.
- Movia, 'Ambra' Pinot Grigio $32. Another non-Italian option, this wine hails from Slovenia.
- Gravner, Anfora Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT $157. The most pricey option on either list, this wine spent time maturing in amphorae, an ancient method of aging in a clay pot. This technique is now making a comeback, especially among natural wine enthusiasts. This may be the most unique wine on the list.
- Helen's Hill Estate, Ingram Road Pinot Grigio $12 This is the second Australian producer on the list -- definitely a region to watch for high-quality Pinot Grigio.
The above data was found via wine-searcher.com, which updates its listings monthly. Information in this article was fact-checked against Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition.
 “Grauburgunder.” The Wines of Germany. 4 July 2021. www.germanwines.de/knowledge/grape-varieties/white-grapes/grauburgunder
 “Pinot Grigio Wine.” wine-searcher. 2 July 2021 - 4 July 2021. www.wine-searcher.com/grape-381-pinot-grigio
 Jancis Robinson. “Pinot Grigio” and “Pinot Gris.” The Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2015. 562.