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Pinot grigio grapes (a.k.a. pinot gris) at a vineyard in California, ready for the harvest.Eric Risberg/The Canadian Press

The question

I read your column this morning and it brought to mind a question I had while sipping white wines this past summer. Can you explain the general differences between pinot grigio, pinot gris and pinot blanc?

The answer

Genetically speaking, there's no difference between the first two. And, contrary to widespread belief, there's virtually no difference with regard to the latter.

Pinot grigio is merely the alternative, Italian name for pinot gris. It's a case of "you say to-MAY-to and I say to-MAH-to," if you will – or tomate and pomodoro, to stick with the Franco-Italian symmetry. Pinot blanc, though often considered a distinctly different grape, is in fact a member of the same variety (pinot), just a slight genetic mutation which results in a paler colour. Aptly named pinot "gris" boasts a skin that is slightly grey, which can sometimes result in a coppery hue when skins are briefly left in contact with the juice after crush.

It may surprise many wine drinkers to learn that both gris/grigio and blanc are, in turn, colour mutations of pinot noir, the red-skinned berry responsible for the vaunted reds of Burgundy and for Miles's rapturous soliloquy in the movie Sideways.

But there are, as you might have discerned during your summer white-wine meditation, distinct flavour differences. Many producers reserve the term pinot gris for pricier, more carefully crafted and sometimes barrel-aged versions of that particular member of the pinot variety. "Pinot grigio" tends to denote a lighter, fashionably mass-market and unoaked style common to northern Italy, though there is considerable overlap and the distinction is very, ahem, fluid. Grigio is often maligned for its anemic, neutral flavour, though its zippy character can be just the thing under the hot summer sun.

And pinot blanc comes with its own taste spectrum, either rich (when oaked) or lighter and more neutral in the grigio way, though usually with more fleshiness and lower acidity.

The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards. Published by HarperCollins.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.