Pinot Gris, known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and Pinot Beurot in Burgundy, is a hugely popular white wine grape variety all over the world. It is a mutated clone of Pinot Noir, and is genetically similar to it other than in colour. Pinot Gris varies hugely between geographical areas and production methods, but it is generally used to make light wines with gentle aromas. The grapes are naturally high in sugars and early to mature, and the skin colour can range from being deep yellow to light pink. The word pinot means pine cone, probably a reference to the pine cone shape of its bunches. It is also a popular choice of variety for making skin-contact wines. It is often harvested early in season, which retains acidity but somewhat limits its level of fruitiness.
The grape was first grown in Burgundy in the Middle Ages, and was spread from there to Switzerland by around 1300. Until the 18th to 19th centuries, it was very popular in Burgundy and Champagne, before it was replaced with more reliable crops that produced higher yields.
In Alsace it covers several hundred hectares of vineyards, around 13.9 per cent of total production there as of 2006, where it produces often dry wines with medium to full body, spiciness and floral notes. In Burgundy, as Pinot Beurot, it is present in many of the red wine blends as well as vineyards of red grapes. However, it is not as popular a variety in France as in Germany or Italy.
In Italy, as Pinot Grigio, it increased its surface area of planted vineyards from 3,500 hectares to 6,700 hectares between 1990 and 2000, showing just how much demand there was for it at the time. It is widely planted around northeast Italy, where it grown on an industrial scale at very high yields, which sadly diminishes the distinctive character of the grape. Fortunately, many smaller producers are on hand to bring the most out of it, drawing out its light bodied, acidic and crisp features.