Pinot Noir, named for its pinecone shape, is the ancestor of all Pinot varietals
Chances are even the most novice of wine drinkers have heard of either Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio. However, it's possible that even a few veterans may not know about Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Gris...or if there is a connection among any of these grape varieties.
Indeed, all of the above Pinot grapes are related. Their common name is a French word meaning "pinecone," which comes from the shape of their bunches of grapes (small berries tightly clustered together in the form of a petite pinecone). Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio (aka Pinot Gris) are not only related but DNA shows that all three of these grapes are identical, except for a tiny mutation that changed their skin color. Pinot Noir's skin is black and so named after the French word black, noir. Pinot Gris/Grigio has a greyish colored skin thus the names which means "grey" in French and Italian, respectively. Pinot Blanc gets its name from its whitish skin (white in French is blanc).
Pinot Noir is the founding member of this ancient noble French family of grapes. One thousand years older than the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, Pinot Noir is not only one of the oldest wine grapes, but is the primary ancestor for many of today's wine grapes. Pinot Noir has a high propensity to mutate. It has birthed over 150 different varietals.
Pinot Blanc is just one of the many grapes that have descended from Pinot Noir. Sometime centuries ago a vine of black Pinot accidentally mutated and produced a shoot of only white skinned grapes. This single white cane was probably grafted to create a vine that produced only blanc grapes. Voila. Pinot Blanc.
Pinot Meunier is also a descendant of the original granddaddy grape, Pinot Noir. One of the three grapes allowed by law in Champagne, Pinot Meunier is dark skinned and contributes aromatics to the Champagne blend. Both Pinots Gris and Grigio (the same grape but called different names in different parts of the world) are morphed offspring of Pinot Noir.
A toast to mutation and le santé in 2020!