Chances are, you’re probably a huge fan of Pinot Meunier already. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Blanc de Noirs Champagne, then this grape has definitely tantalised your tastebuds. Known as the Holy Trinity of grapes, Pinot Meunier is most commonly blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to create a Blanc de Noirs Champagne. Unlike Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier is rarely bottled as a single varietal still or sparkling wine. However, this is all beginning to change as this intriguing grape variety is finally making a name for itself.
Pinot Meunier, which means ‘miller’ in French, is named after the tiny hairs on its leaves, which look almost as if they were dusted in flour. It is also referred to as simply “Meunier” in Burgundy and Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe (Miller’s vine) or Müller-Traube (Miller’s grape) in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. No one knows the exact origins of Pinot Meunier, but believe that its parentage could be a cross between Pinot Noir and an older, lesser known vitis vinifera variety called Gouais Blanc.
LET’S TALK TERROIR
Pinot Meunier thrives in a cool-climate such as Burgundy’s Marne Valley where it has successfully grown for centuries. It can also be found in other parts of France such as the Loire Valley, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and a variety of New World locations such as Oregon, California, British Columbia and Australia.
Pinot Meunier is a variety that buds early (a bit later than Pinot Noir) in the growing season and can be harvested before Pinot Noir. As a result, this vitis vinifera variety often avoids damage from spring frosts during budbreak as well as any unexpected autumnal storms that could potentially harm its beautifully ripe clusters. Due to a shorter growing season, Pinot Meunier requires steady, cool-climate growing conditions in order to fully ripen and display adequate complexities to make a still, single varietal wine. During cooler vintages, the grapes will not achieve full-ripeness and are best suited for sparkling wines. On the other hand, warmer growing conditions due to climate change, are creating conditions where an even earlier budbreak and harvest are occurring. As a result of these changes, the Pinot Meunier grape is more vulnerable to spring frosts and/or the possibility that the grapes may ripen too soon, which will produce fruit lacking in true varietal characteristics and complexities.
ALL ABOUT THE WINE
It’s important to understand why Pinot Meunier is most often favoured in Champagne Blanc de Noirs blends rather than as a single varietal wine. Grapes with higher acidity levels, produce wines that are refreshingly mouthwatering on the palate and possess a greater ageing potential. In order to achieve this desired acidity, grapes need to be harvested slightly earlier than if they were being made into single varietal wines. When this happens, the grapes will contain less sugar, higher acidity, and less fruit flavours. In order to compensate for this, it’s ideal to find a grape that maintains higher acidity levels along with bit more sugar and more fruit flavours to add to the blend. This is where Pinot Meunier comes into the scene! Within a Champagne Blanc de Noirs, Pinot Noir adds structure, body and complexities; Chardonnay adds enriching elegance and refreshing acidity; and Pinot Meunier brings floral aromas and fruitiness to the blend. Together, a match made in heaven! There is however some contention concerning the ageing potential of Blanc de Noirs Champagne that include Pinot Meunier.
Some believe that Pinot Meunier lacks the structure, elegance and finesse to be an age worthy single varietal still or sparkling wine; however, this viewpoint is definitely changing. Many believe that old-vine Pinot Meunier produces wines with excellent ageing potential. In fact, some grape growers and winemakers in the Champagne region are so determined to champion all that Pinot Meunier has to offer, that Eric Taillet along with other Champagne winemakers founded the Meunier Institute in 2015. Together, they are hoping to change people’s perceptions of Pinot Meunier.
There are many styles of Pinot Meunier. As a still red wine, Pinot Meunier is similar in style to a Burgundy Pinot Noir yet lower in alcohol, lighter in colour and in body with aromas and flavours of tart cherry and raspberry with subtle rose aromas. Some examples even display earthy notes, rather than the spiciness that may be expressed in a Pinot Noir. Old vine examples will have the best ageing potential. I’ve even managed to find a still white Pinot Meunier from the Simpson’s Wine Estate in the UK, which they describe as displaying notes of “chalk purity…sweet and savoury aromas of poached winter fruit…complex balsamic nuances and red fruit flavours…with a deliciously creamy mouth-feel” finish. As a sparkling single varietal wine, Pinot Meunier can be made into a sparkling rosé or a Blanc de Meunier. With so many options, it’s so hard to choose! When pairing Pinot Meunier with food, it’s definitely best to start with similar pairings as you would in Pinot Noir. As Pinot Meunier exudes more of a fruity, earthy note, you might want to focus on pairings with a lot of savoury umami such as sautéed mushrooms, a grilled tuna steak, or even roasted duck.
Grape: Pinot Meunier
Grape Colour: Black grape
Preferred Climate: Cool-Continental
Key Regions: Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Oregon, California, British Columbia and Australia
Sweetness: Bone Dry
Alcohol: Low (10-11.5%)
Tannins: Medium low
Acidity: medium to medium-high
Aromas and Flavours: (Medium+ Intensity)
Floral: Rose blossoms
Fruit: Red Cherry, Cranberry, Raspberry, Blueberry
Bottle Age: Earth, Mushroom
Pairings: Mushrooms, Grilled Tuna Steak, Roasted Duck
Drinking Window: 1 – 2 years