How to Choose: Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio

Learn the differences between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, two of the most popular types of white wine worldwide.

By Lucie Robson
Dec 13, 2021
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Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio

The standout difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) is the nose. The aromas of the former are pronounced, and you can usually detect them before you get anywhere near the glass! On the other hand, even the fuller-bodied styles of Pinot Grigio are more restrained. Another difference is that, globally, Sauvignon Blanc is more widely planted than Pinot Grigio.

 

Additionally, the latter lends itself more easily to food pairing because of its gentler palate. How these varieties are similar is that they both produce dry styles of white wine with high acidity as well as some off-dry versions.

 

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc (known in Italy as Sauvignon) originates in Bordeaux, France where it’s made in varietal wines as well dry and sweet blends. It’s also a leading grape in France’s Loire Valley which has become a benchmark for dry styles. Perhaps wine lovers mostly associate this grape with New Zealand where it’s become the flagship variety. It’s also cultivated in Australia, South Africa, South America, and California where it’s also sometimes oaked and traditionally bottled under the name of Fumé Blanc.

 

In Italy, prominent styles of Sauvignon Blanc appear in the northern regions of Veneto, Alto-Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Notably, it also grows in Emilia-Romagna, Sicily, Tuscany, and is the main grape or blended in many DOCs across the country. The body, fruit, and acidity profile of wines from this grape differ according to the local climate. Most Sauvignon ranges from 11.5% to 13.5% abv.

 

Main characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc

 

  • Sauvignon Blanc is pale to deep lemon.
  • In cool climes it displays citrus, green bell pepper, and vegetal notes.
  • In warm regions, stone and tropical fruit notes dominate.
  • Sauvignon Blanc is usually dry high acidity and a light to medium body.
  • In Bordeaux, it’s blended in the sweet wine Sauternes where it adds acidity.
  • Usually Sauvignon Blanc is unoaked to retain fruit purity. When oaked, it features toasty notes.

 

Examples of Sauvignon Blanc:

  • Sauvignon Blanc, Meroi, 2019, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy.
  • Il Sauvignon Blanc, Rosa Bosco, 2019, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy.
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Castel Vecchio, 2020, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy.

 

 

Pinot Grigio

Burgundy in France is the original home of Pinot Grigio where it has the name Pinot Gris. In fact, like most Vitis vinifera grapes, this variety has numerous names! In terms of heredity, it descends from the iconic Pinot Noir grape. In Italy, Pinot Grigio thrives in the northeast where Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia make premium versions of this wine. In the same neighborhood, the Veneto plains are a source of high-volume, easy-drinking Pinot Grigio. It’s also a prominent grape in Lombardy. In Alsace France, this variety is one of the four noble grapes used for dry and sweet wines. In the New World wine regions, Pinot Grigio is a star cultivar in America’s northwest state of Oregon.

 

Main characteristics of Pinot Grigio

  • Pinot Grigio has a pinkish-grey skin hinting at its relation to the black-skinned Pinot Noir grape. 
  • It displays elegant aromas of citrus, orchard fruit, stone fruit, melon, and spicy ginger.
  • It has a light body. 
  • Top-tier styles from Italy have a fuller, riper body, florals, honey, rich minerality, and tones of almond. 
  • The alcohol level of Pinot Grigio ranges from 11.5% to 13.5%.

 

Examples of Pinot Grigio

  • Pinot Grigio, Ronco dei Pini, 2020, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
  • Pinot Grigio, Erma Cora, 2020, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
  • Pinot Grigio, Rodaro, 2019, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy.
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Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Origin

Sauvignon Blanc

An interesting point about Sauvignon Blanc is, along with Cabernet Franc, it’s one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. Like its offspring, it’s an iconic grape that’s planted widely across many world wine regions. It can produce crisp, refreshing dry styles like in the Loire Valley as well as sweet styles seen in Sauternes and Barsac. It’s usually vinified in stainless steel to keep its fruit character but some communes in Bordeaux and producers in California age it in oak to add toasty notes.

 

In Italy, the finest examples of this grape come from the northeast of the country. In Alto-Adige, wines are crisp and eye-wateringly acidic with tart fruit while in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, warmer climes result in riper fruit and gentler acidity.

 

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is such a distinct grape that it may come as a surprise to learn it’s a mutation! Specifically, this variety is one of many grapes that Pinot Noir has spawned. This white grape is also distantly related to that other legendary white variety, Chardonnay. Ampelographers have tracked Pinot Grigio’s arrival in northern Italy as coming from Switzerland (where it was historically a favorite of the nobility) via the Alps. à

 

Although northern Italy has become a reference point for quality Pinot Grigio, German and Alsatian vignerons also craft notable examples of this wine. It’s also grown across many European and New World wine regions.

 

Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Grapes

Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic grape variety which means it needs careful treatment in the winery so as not to mask its pronounced aromas and flavors. It’s early ripening so thrives in cool places, displaying lemon, grapefruit, green pepper, and mineral notes. Where there’s also a lot of intense sunlight, a richer fruit profile develops. Sauvignon Blanc grows vigorously (its name comes from the French word for “wild”) so needs careful management so that grapes aren’t blocked from sunlight by foliage or the canopy. Indeed, vignerons in New Zealand have become experts in canopy management because of their experience with Sauvignon Blanc!

 

This grape is found all over Italy in both varietal wines and blends with the best examples found in Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

 

Pinot Grigio

 

Pinot Grigio is one of the better-known mutations of its highly-revered parent, Pinot Noir. It shares similar characteristics with its parent, notably, its early budding and early ripening nature. Pinot Grigio is capable of producing both delicate to rich, ripe wines depending on where it’s cultivated. In warm, well-aspected spots sugar accumulates in the fruit leading to richer wines. In its spiritual home, northern Italy, the quality and character of Pinot Grigio varies from region to region.

 

In the lofty Alto Adige and more temperate Friuli-Venezia Giulia, fruit bears similarities to the small berries in France and Germany, giving wines more fruity intensity. Wines from the Veneto plains come from larger grapes with more dilute flavors. This results in more neutral wines.

 

Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Tasting Notes

Sauvignon Blanc

The profile of Sauvignon Blanc varies depending on where it grows. In the Loire Valley, the cool climate means it displays citrus, green fruit, and rich minerality. In cool yet sunny spots like Marlborough in New Zealand, this grape develops rich, layered tropical fruit and green bell pepper while still retaining its signature acidity and minerality. In north-eastern Italy, Sauvignon Blanc ranges between a Loire style in Alto-Adige and a fuller style in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. 

 

Pinot Grigio

This grape also expresses different features depending on its site. Known for its citrus, stone and orchard fruit, ginger, and moderate alcohol, in Italy Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia produce premium fruity, concentrated styles with honey notes. On the other hand, the Veneto plains yield grapes that are suited to more neutral styles that display less fruit and spice and are suitable for easy drinking. 

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Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio: Food pairing

Sauvignon Blanc

 

Whether it has a citrus character or layers of tropical fruit, Sauvignon Blanc has a finesse that makes it suitable for lighter dishes. Points to note for successful food pairing are its fruity nature, dryness, and its acidity levels. Both a bright, fresh style from Alto Adige or a fuller, fruitier wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sauvignon Blanc from Italy pairs well with a range of fish, meat, vegetable recipes, and cheeses. 

 

  • Appetizers: Bruschetta, cured olives, prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks, hummus, crab cakes.
  • Entrées: Ravioli with herby tomato sauce, grilled lamb or chicken, sushi, seafood, oysters, pesto penne, sauteed vegetables. Note that Sauvignon Blanc loves buttery sauces as its acidity cuts through the fat.
  • Dessert: Fruit tarts, lemon cake, fruit pavlova. 
  • Cheese: Gruyère, Brie, Gouda, Goat’s Cheese, Cheddar.

 

 

Pinot Grigio

The aromas and flavors of Pinot Grigio vary depending on whether it comes from cool slopes or arm plains and its treatment in the winery. A typical, high-volume Venetian Pinot Grigio is dry or off-dry and features delicate citrus and stone fruit plus high acidity. To the northeast in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Pinot Grigio displays rich layers of stone and citrus fruit and strokes of ginger, florals, and minerality. Both styles pair well with a range of foods. The key is to keep sweetness levels in mind and to pair wines with cuisine that enhances fruit and floral notes.

 

  • Appetizers: Shrimp or oyster starters, mozzarella and tomato, crudités, pitta bread and hummus, and even potato chips (the salt enhances the wine’s fruitiness). 
  • Entrées: Lightly herby chicken, sushi, artichoke salad with fennel and asparagus, fried fish (the acidity cuts through the fat), seafood salad, pasta with light creamy sauces. Off-dry Pinot Grigio goes well with slightly spicy Asian dishes because the sugar and chili heat balance one another. 
  • Dessert: White and dark chocolate, fruit platters, crème brulee. 
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