Ever paused at the dry white wine section and wondered what the difference is between pinot grigio and pinot gris? A quick glance at the label and you’d be forgiven for thinking not much. After all, both are made from the same grape.

“Pinot grigio and pinot gris grapes are actually identical varieties,” says Andrew Harris, wine ambassador at Brown Brothers. Both wines are “a mutation from the pinot noir grape.”

The first difference in the two styles is regional influence. Grigio is Italian for “grey” – a reference to the lighter colour of the grape’s skin. In France, where gris means “grey”, the same variety is known as pinot gris.

The second influence is time. Grapes used to make pinot grigio are generally picked earlier than those used to make gris. Because they haven’t had as long to ripen, pinot grigio wines taste crisper and more savoury than gris wines.

Harris says because of the need to balance picking the grapes early while still allowing them time to develop, cool climates are well suited to growing pinot grigio. “In Australia that means places like King Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania,” he says. In warmer regions the grapes can ripen too fast, resulting in a sweeter, more full-bodied wine – more like gris than grigio.

Harris says pinot grigio is best enjoyed within the first few years of release. Here’s a guide to pairing pinot grigio at home.

With seafood

Pinot grigio makes an ideal companion to fresh seafood. “The savoury elements of the wine ensure it doesn’t overpower the meat’s delicate flavours," says Harris. Traditional pairings include oysters, calamari, and lobster. But Harris has another suggestion. “If you’re looking for an unusual dish, you could go for something like eel,” he says. “Eel has a really oily, salty flavour. Pinot grigio has a salty element to it, but also a fantastic acidity to cut through oiliness. That would be pretty interesting.”

With nibbles

The delicate acidity of pinot grigio is also a good accompaniment for the rich, salty flavours of an antipasto plate. “Sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke, salami and white anchovies all hit the spot,” says Harris. For a truly inspired pairing, grab some friends, a rug and picnic basket, gather some olives and slices of prosciutto-wrapped melon and a bottle of pinot grigio – like Brown Brother’s 18 Eighty Nine – and set up camp on your favourite patch of grass.

Cheese

A soft and mild cheese will match well with pinot grigio’s crisp pear and peach aromas. Cow’s-milk cheeses (such as brie, gruyere and mozzarella) are ideal. A goat-cheese chevre also works beautifully.

Pasta and risottos

Buttery pastas and risottos with light, simple sauces are another good pairing. Think prawns or mussels; fennel, asparagus or other spring greens; or a generous grating of parmesan. It’s the kind of easy-to-share combination that works well for a dinner party or last-minute meal – you can also add a splash of wine to the sauce.

With spicy food

The best match for chilli and spice is often thought to be a highly acidic riesling or a sweet, fruity red. But, more often than not, pinot grigio can stand up against heat just as well. Its light aromatics and mild but refreshing acidity both cool the palate, and help to broaden the flavours in the dish. Try it with grilled corn topped with lime juice, chilli, and queso fresco.

Pinot grigio form guide:

Glassware in public: standard wine glass.
Glassware at home: stemless wine glass.
What they'll tell you it pairs with: seafood, antipasto, summer barbeques.
What they won't tell you it pairs with: sushi.

This article is presented in partnership with Brown Brothers' 18 Eighty Nine Pinot Grigio.