Pinot gris is grown around the globe with the "spicy" full-bodied Alsatian and lighter-bodied, more acidic Italian styles being most widely recognized. The Alsatian style, often duplicated in New World wine regions such as Marlborough, Tasmania, South Australia, Washington, and Oregon, tend to have moderate to low acidity, higher alcohol levels and an almost "oily" texture that contributes to the full-bodied nature of the wine. The flavors can range from ripe tropical fruit notes of melon and mango to some botrytis-influenced flavors. In Italy, Pinot grigio grapes are often harvested early to retain the refreshing acidity and minimize some of the overt-fruitiness of the variety, creating a more neutral flavor profile. This style is often imitated in other Old World wine regions, such as Germany where the grape is known as Ruländer.
Pinot gris has been known since the Middle Ages in the Burgundy region, where it was probably called Fromenteau. It spread from Burgundy, along with Pinot noir, arriving in Switzerland by 1300. The grape was reportedly a favorite of the Emperor Charles IV, who had cuttings imported to Hungary by Cistercian monks: the brothers planted the vines on the slopes of Badacsony bordering Lake Balaton in 1375. The vine soon after developed the name Szürkebarát meaning "grey monk." In 1711, a German merchant, named Johann Seger Ruland (re)discovered a grape growing wild in the fields of the Palatinate. The subsequent wine he produced became known as Ruländer and the vine was later discovered to be Pinot gris.
Until the 18th and 19th century, the grape was a popular planting in Burgundy and Champagne but poor yields and unreliable crops caused the grape to fall out of favor in those areas. The same fate nearly occurred in Germany, but vine breeders in the early 20th century were able to develop clonal varieties that would produce a more consistent and reliable crop.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have determined that Pinot gris has a remarkably similar DNA profile to Pinot noir and that the color difference is derived from a genetic mutation that occurred centuries ago. The leaves and the vines of both grapes are so similar that the coloration is the only aspect that differentiates the two. Around 2005, Pinot gris was enjoying increasing popularity in the marketplace, especially in its Pinot grigio incarnation and similar New World varietal wines.
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