Written by: Tim Edison

Updated on: November 26, 2022

Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: What’s the Difference?

Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir main

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are from the same Burgundian grape family, but there's a critical difference - Pinot Grigio is a white wine, and Pinot Noir is red.

Being white, Pinot Grigio has no tannins, while Pinot Noir has low tannins. Pinot Grigio has subtle green fruit flavors and a light body, while Pinot Noir has red fruit notes of cherry, strawberry, and plum. Both are light-bodied with bright acidity. 

Which you prefer will mostly depend on whether you prefer white or red wine, but there's no reason why you can't enjoy both with different meals. 

This guide explores the differences and similarities between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, including their origin, tasting notes, and how they are served. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Tasting Notes Compared

You can expect a markedly different tasting experience between these wines because one is white, one is red, and both have contrasting textures. 

Let's start with Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is a beautifully light white wine with a balanced flavor profile. You can expect green apple, pear, and stone fruit flavors, with hints of honey from warmer regions. Floral notes, such as white flowers, are found in many Alsace varieties. 

Pinot Grigio takes on grassy notes with light oak aging, with crisp minerality. The low alcohol and low serving temperature make it incredibly refreshing. 

Moving on to Pinot Noir, the experience is very different. Pinot Noir is a light, low-tannin red wine with bold red fruit flavors. Cherry, raspberry, and violet flavors make it fresh, with mocha and cocoa notes in oak-aged wines. 

The beauty of Pinot Noir is that it takes well to barrel aging, with more time developing vanilla, baking spice, and clove flavors.  


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: Aroma

We love popping open a bottle of Pinot Noir because we always get a rush of black cherry, pepper, and oak from oak-aged wines. Younger wines have brighter notes of strawberry and raspberry, with a hint of red licorice and cola in wines from Germany's Ahr region. 

Compared to Zinfandel, another popular red, Pinot Noir is ripe and fresh, with exciting aromas that pop. Extended aging brings out strong notes of cassis (blackcurrant). 

Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, could not be any different. This fresh white wine bursts with pear, green apple, and stone fruit aromas, and it delivers these in perfectly balanced layers, with no dominant notes and an undertone of lime, lemon, and nectarine. 

Warmer climates produce a fruitier wine with bright white peach aromas. German Pinot Grigio often has notes of almond, while French Pinot Gris has more lime.  


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: Color

Pinot Noir is a blush red to deep violet color, with aged wines taking on a darker hue and pale reds synonymous with younger wines. 

Pinot Grigio has a pale-yellow hue close to fresh straw or pale gold. Italian varieties border on clear, while French and German varieties are yellower. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Alcohol Content

Pinot Grigio has a 12.5% to 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), making it a light-medium-bodied white wine. This makes it lighter than Chardonnay but fuller than Riesling

The alcohol content of Pinot Noir is affected more by the climate in which it is grown. Cool-climate wines have a 12% to 13.5% ABV, but many warm-climate wines are between 14% and 15% ABV. 

Both wines are also available in low-alcohol versions, with a typical ABV between 4.5% and 7.5% for Pinot Grigio and 6% to 9% for Pinot Noir. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Sweetness/Dryness

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are both traditionally dry wines, but Pinot Grigio can also be found in semi-sweet and sweet varieties from late-harvest grapes. 

The critical thing to know with wine tasting is that sour counterbalances sweet, which is why Pinot Grigio tastes so good. It has moderate acidity and sweet green fruit flavors, which balance each other out, creating a delicious tipple. 

Pinot Noir is similar because it has bright acidity and red fruit flavors that taste sweet; however, there is very little residual sugar in the wine. Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio have sweet flavors, but the taste in your mouth is acidic and dry. 


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: Acidity

Pinot Grigio has medium to high acidity, leaning more on the medium side. It is a crisp wine, delivering flavors without lip-smacking acidity. 

Being red, you might think Pinot Noir is less acidic than Pinot Grigio. Still, the opposite is true, with more acidity than Pinot Grigio and other reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

We adore the acidity of Pinot Noir because it brings red fruit flavors to life. With Pinot Grigio, the acidity is moderate but bright, helping accentuate sweet green fruit notes. 

If you enjoy moderate acidity, you will love both wines. You should also check out Grenache (red) and Chenin Blanc (white). 


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: Tannin

Wines get tannins from grape skins, where they also receive color. 

Winemakers change the tannins and color of their wines by adjusting the time the grape skins interact with the pressed grape juice.  

Pinot Grigio has no perceptible tannins because the grape's red/purplish skins are removed immediately following pressing, creating a lean white wine with a crisp, refreshing profile. However, this also means it has a short, sharp finish. 

Pinot Noir has low, silky tannins, making it one of the rare reds that won't dry out your mouth. The low tannins result from the grape's thin skins imparting few polyphenols. However, there are at least some tannins, giving the wine a pleasing finish. 

Related: Discover how polyphenols found in wine are linked with health benefits.


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: Body

Pinot Grigio is light to medium-bodied, but most varieties are light-bodied, making them crisp and refreshing with very little texture. 

Pinot Noir has a fuller texture but is still classed as light-medium-bodied, although varieties with an ABV over 14% are medium to full-bodied. 

When Pinot Noir is oak-aged, it can have a denser mouthfeel that borders on chewy, although not to the same extent as Syrah/Shiraz


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: How They're Served

Pinot Grigio is best at 45-50° F (7-10°C). Colder temperatures bring out the acidity and accentuate the green fruit flavors. 

The best glass for Pinot Grigio is a standard wine glass, and it also works brilliantly in a Champagne flute.   

Being red, Pinot Noir should be served warmer than Pinot Grigio, but not quite at room temperature. 55-60°F (12-15°C) is the sweet spot – this temperature range works because of the low tannins, which stay subdued at lower temps. 

The best glass for Pinot Noir is a Burgundy wine glass with a wide bowl that allows lots of oxygen to bring out the wine's flavors.  

Related: How does Pinot Grigio compare to a similar dry white like Sauvignon Blanc?


Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Noir: History

Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Pris depending on where in the world you are, originates from Burgundy, France. However, Italy's dominant grape production means it is widely associated with Italy today. 

Interestingly, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are related, so they have the same origin – Burgundy. DNA evidence shows the grapes are strikingly similar at a genetic level. 

Pinot Grigio is a mutant clone of Pinot Grigio, but the precise origin of both grapes is unknown. They could be wild French grapes or ancient imports; the latter is more likely since Pinot Noir is a variety of the species Vitis vinifera. 

Pinot Noir can be dated back to the first century AD, thanks to the Romans who invaded France. However, Pinot Grigio is mentioned much later, with one of the first mentions in 1375 when the French sold it to Hungary and Germany.  


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Popularity

Pinot Noir is one of the most popular red wines in the world, and we can safely say it's the most popular light-bodied red wine. 

Pinot Grigio is the second most popular white wine in the United States and one of the most popular white wines in most wine-growing regions. 

Both wines are highly approachable and suitable for many food pairings. Look no further if you're looking for a crowd-pleasing red and white wine for your dinner table. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Grapes 

Pinot Grigio might be a white wine, but the grape is red! Well, it's more like a grayish blue with hints of green and red, but it is very much a red variety. The skins are removed after pressing, leaving behind clear juice. 

Pinot Noir is also a red grape variety. The grape is reddish black, much darker than Pinot Grigio, and has a slightly chalky appearance when ripe. The best time to harvest it is August to September. 

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are early-ripening grapes, which means they are among the first pickings of the year. Conversely, Merlot and Sangiovese are late-harvest grapes. 

Another commonality of both grapes is that they have thin skins, making them easy to press without tainting the wine with the skin's tannins. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Growing Regions

Italy is the largest producer of Pinot Grigio, with production concentrated in Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli, Trentino, and Alto Adige. 

France is the second key Pinot Grigio producer, although they call it Pinot Gris. It grows in the Alsace region and in small patches in Burgundy. 

Other notable producers include the USA in California, Oregon, Washington State, Austria in Steiermark, and Germany in Rheinhessen.

France is Pinot Noir's largest producer, with Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Loire Valley producing exquisite wines. 

Argentina, Germany, and Italy also produce Pinot Noir, but the USA produces some of the finest wines outside France. Oregon is a leading producer, with the semi-arid climate providing lots of sun without the heat. 

The Pinot Noir grape likes temperate climates and sun, but not heat. The same goes for Pinot Grigio, although it is less susceptible to frost, making it easier to grow in cold climates. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Winemaking Process

Pinot Grigio is harvested between August and September. The grapes are crushed and pressed, releasing the grape juice, and the skins are removed immediately, producing clear grape juice with no tint from the skins.

The grape juice enters stainless steel vats, where it ferments for around three months. Oak aging only sometimes improves the flavor, requiring a light oak to impart grassy flavors. 

Pinot Noir is harvested slightly late between August and October. After crushing and pressing, the juice undergoes fermentation in oak or steel.

Some Pinot Noir undergoes carbonic maceration, where the grapes are placed whole in a stainless-steel tank with carbon dioxide. The CO2 converts some of the sugar to alcohol, and the grapes are pressed and fermented with yeast. 

Unlike some reds, Pinot Noir is rarely aged in the barrel fully. Most wines are aged in a combination of stainless steel and oak, which preserves the red fruit flavors. 


Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Noir: Food Pairings

Pinot Grigio is a crisp, refreshing, delicate white wine that pairs best with light foods, simple seasonings, and meaty white dishes. 

A few of our favorite food pairings include swordfish, chicken, and turkey, served with fresh greens or salad. Sandwiches are a top choice for a delicious lunch, or you can try a fruity Pinot Gris with soft cheese, crackers, and dried fruit. 

Pinot Noir is perfect for fatty fish, roast chicken, cheesy pasta, duck, and lean red meat. It doesn't have the tannins for prime rib and ribeye, but it works with lean beef and venison, including in stews. 


Conclusion

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir couldn't be more different, despite sharing similar DNA and being from the same region. Here are the key differences and similarities:

  • Both are dry.
  • Both are from Burgundy, France. 
  • Both share similar DNA. 
  • Both are red grapes. 
  • Pinot Grigio is a white wine; Pinot Noir is red. 
  • Pinot Noir has red fruit flavors, mocha, and cocoa notes with oak aging. 
  • Pinot Grigio has green apple, pear, and stone fruit flavors.
  • Pinot Noir has low tannins; Pinot Grigio has no tannins. 
  • Pinot Grigio has a 12.5% to 13.5% ABV.
  • Pinot Noir has a 12% to 13.5% ABV, but many warm-climate wines are between 14% and 15% ABV, with a medium body. 
  • Pinot Noir pairs beautifully with lean meats, pasta, and fatty fish.
  • Pinot Grigio has a delicate profile suited to fresh food pairings, simple seasonings, and carbohydrates like bread and crackers. 

Pinot Noir is your quintessential red table wine, while Pinot Grigio is your get-together wine for sipping and snacking – two crowd-pleasers for different moments. You can't go wrong with either for a great wine-tasting experience. 


About the Author Tim Edison


Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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