Alto Adige: Comparing Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco

What's the difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco? I found myself wondering this at a lunch I was invited to featuring the wines of Colterenzio in Italy's far north Alto Adige wine region. The winery's export manager, Letizia Pasini, was there to field my query and answer it generally in terms of the wines of her region and specifically concerning the examples we tasted. Simply put, Pinot Grigio has more body while Pinot Bianco is lighter. And though the name "Pinot Grigio" is more popular, Pasini feels that if you put it in a blind tasting, many people would probably prefer Pinot Bianco. (She revealed that she always has a bottle of Pinot Bianco in the fridge at home.)

Pasini finds it a bit curious that due to the popularity of Pinot Grigio, especially in the United States, people just order "a Pinot Grigio" without any concern as to where its from or who made it. That's part of the problem with Pinot Grigio. We've come to accept unremarkable, serviceable, generic versions. Why would we need to know about the producer or the region? But examples from Northern Italy prove that, as Amy Zavatto details in greater depth, Pinot Grigio doesn't have to suck.

Moving past talk about wine grapes, while speaking a bit more in depth about the people living in Alto Adige, Pasini described them as having a combination of focus and flair. I don't see why we can't apply her analogy to the wines as well.