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Pinot grigio is perhaps best known as the standard-bearer white wine of Italy. And they do make some pretty fantastic pinot grigio. But this cherished grape variety is also a bit of a chameleon—going by other names in other places around the world like malvoisie and pinot gris. But to say pinot gris and pinot grigio are identical wines would be like saying that Parliament and Funkadelic are identical music groups just because they’re both led by George Clinton, which is to say, they are most certainly not.
The French and the Oregonians call it pinot gris, and in their hands, it tends to yield a slightly more vivid yellow color, spicier texture, and fuller-bodied wine. On the other hand, the Italians were the ones to popularize pinot grigio’s lighter, straw-colored, crisp, and citrus-driven style.
The differences are subtle, and either way, these wines are one variety under a groove. To help you find that groove, we’ve put together this list that gives you the best pinot grigios to drink right now, even if they go by another name.
Best Overall: 2018 Four Graces Pinot Gris
From Oregon’s Willamette Valley comes this prize bottle from Four Graces. Winemaker Tim Jones runs the show there, a born-and-bred Pacific Northwesterner who works the land he knows so well to make some of the best pinot gris around.
There are aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and honey, with buttery notes of peach, pear and apple on the palate. This bottle is beautifully dry and crisp with good acidity.
Best Organic: 2017 Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Gris
Flanked by Redwood forests and exposed to long stretches of cool marine air, Long Meadow Ranch’s vineyards in the deep of Anderson Valley sets the scene for a majestic pinot gris. Their winemaker, Burgundy native Stéphane Vivier, cut his teeth working at vineyards all over the globe and lends his distinctly French sensibilities to this organically-farmed wine.
A sumptuous minerality underscores aromatic notes of apricot, pear and honey. Floral and citrus flavors add layers. This bottle is nice and dry with a soft lingering finish.
Best California: 2018 Swanson Pinot Grigio
2018 was an ideal year for growing pinot grigio grapes, and the folks at Swanson Vineyards are crafty winemakers. Situated in a fair, mild climate atop drained limestone soils in the San Benito AVA, nestled between the Gabilan Mountains range and Diablo Mountain, this California terroir allows for just the right conditions to make a wine that’s an aromatic feast for the nose.
Served at this feast: Guava fruit, pear, jasmine and lemon, followed by palate notes of Granny Smith apple and juicy acidity. This wine is a natural pair with seafood, especially clams.
Best Oregon: 2018 Panther Creek Pinot Gris
Panther Creek was founded in 1986 by wine luminary Ken Wright who perfected the art of richly textured, deeply-flavorful Oregon pinot noir. Today, not much has changed, and their pinot noir is still top-notch. Lucky for us, so is their crisp, refreshing pinot gris, another treat from the Willamette Valley.
With the color of a golden sunrise, this bottle has notes of green apple, pear, melon, citrus and orange marmalade. This is sturdily balanced and dry with a light touch of sweet honey on the finish.
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Best Washington: 2018 14 Hands Pinot Gris
Since it features a pair of wild horses on the label, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wine should be called “8 Hooves.” But that’s just one of the many delightful surprises you get from this Washington-grown bottle. It was developed in a proud vintage year full of warm fall days and cool nights—nature’s way of delivering superb pinot grigio.
Aromatic notes of honeysuckle, honeydew and cantaloupe, with apple and pear flavors lay over the tongue like a buttery blanket. There is a crisp, but soft-fruited finish with this wine.
Best Italian: 2018 Pighin Pinot Grigio
You can’t have a reputable list of top pinot grigios without including a slew of Italian concoctions. First off, there’s this lovely bottle from Pighin, made in the storied northern Friuli part of the country, which is a region famous for its white wines. Combine the Friulian terroir with the expert winemakers at Pighin, and you end up with this knock-out wine.
Get in a good whiff of that sweet citrus and floral aroma before you sip. Flavors of underripe banana, Bosc pear, white peach, apple and lemongrass give way to a long, tangy finish.
Runner-up Best Italian: 2019 Scarpetta Pinot Grigio
Don’t be shocked that the runner-up Best Italian on this list comes from the same Friuli region you just read about. There are so many excellent pinot grigios from that part of the world, but it takes an extra special wine to stand out among them. Scarpetta is a love-letter to the region from the creative minds of ex-French Laundry chef Lachlan Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
Clean and vivid with pronounced wet rock minerality, stone fruit and citrus take the wheel with this wine, while earth and straw take the backseat. A fair way to honor Italian tradition is to make this wine a part of your nice Italian meal.
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Best Australian: 2017 Vinaceous Sirenya Pinot Grigio
Great quality and great value conspire to deliver this refreshing pinot grigio from two longtime Aussie winemakers—Gavin Berry and Michael Kerrigan. The Sirenya is sourced from the Mygunya Vineyard in the cool Adelaide Hills region in South Australia.
This is bright, zippy, with ample minerality. Tangy citrus fruit is layered with poached pear, giving way to a dazzling white floral finish.
Best Under $20: 2018 Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio
As we do with pasta and tarantella music, we are to trust the Italians to make quality pinot grigio. Though best known for their prosecco, Villa Sandi also knows how to pack a punch with their still pinot grigio, romancing the grape by aging only in stainless steel and delivering a low-alcohol rendition that makes it easy to enjoy a couple of bottles without paying for it the next morning.
This has a pale yellow color like a just-packed bail of barnyard hay. It is fruity and grassy with notes of pear, apple, lime, gooseberry and acacia. This wine has a hearty structure with a warm, spicy finish.
Best Under $10: 2018 Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio
Ecco Domani holds a special honor in the world of pinot grigio: They're known as the brand that turned America onto the variety, meaning anytime they make a pinot grigio, we should drink that pinot grigio. Winemaker Fabrizio Gatto lets his grapes cold-soak for up to three weeks, which allows for a crafty flavor exchange between grape skins and the fresh-pressed grape must (the juice before it becomes wine).
This wine is heavy on the tree fruit: pear, apple, and peach with pineapple and straw on the backend. There is a full mouthfeel with soft, fleshy fruit and an impossibly refreshing finish.
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Best for Sangria: 2019 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Alto Adige
Okay, one more Italian wine before we wrap things up. If you have a craving for a white wine sangria, your best bet is the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio sourced from the vineyards of Northern Italy’s Alto Adige region. This Italian jewel is beloved by Americans and this is the perfect white to sip on while you whip up that sangria made with… this white!
This wine boasts an enchanting citrus musk that is spearheaded by lemon and grapefruit. It is bolstered by yellow apple and pear flavors, with light touches of almond paste, and is dry as a bone in the Sahara. The versatile flavors make this wine stand on its own and also pair well with floating chunks of fruit.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup, except for the Ormes de Pez and Unico. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.