In this blog series, we are rediscovering some of the “forgotten” grapes and wines of France. My last articles covered Mourvedre and Cinsault. This article covers Pinot Meunier, Champagne’s under-acknowledged stepchild.
Pinot Meunier (“little miller”) grows in the Champagne region in northern France, where it is well equipped to handle the cold temperatures of the region.
Pinot Meunier derives its name from the white floury coat often seen on the underside of the leaves.
This light red wine is one of three wines used in making Champagne. The other two are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Champagne is called Blanc de Noir when Pinot Noir is the only varietal used, and Blanc de Blanc when Chardonnay is the only varietal used. Yet, even in blended Champagne, Pinot Meunier never appears on the label! Why the top-secret treatment, leaving it off the playbill? First, there is no such thing as 100% Pinot Meunier varietal Champagne. Second, the other two Champagne grapes are “noble” grapes. While Pinot Meunier has been around since the 1600s, and is more widely planted in the Champagne region than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, it is typically thought of us just another mutation of Pinot Noir.
The good news is that Champagne producers are finally beginning to acknowledge this under-appreciated ingredient, recognizing its contribution of body and richness, as well as brightness and fruitiness.
Pinot Meunier has high acidity, low tannin and low color. It is a wine that needs to be drunk young. Its short life span, coupled with its lovely complementary attributes and high demand as a blending wine, makes this zesty, red very difficult to find as a standalone still (non-sparkly) wine. If you do find a standalone still Pinot Meunier, according to tree.com, you’re likely to find “a dry, fruity wine with a slightly bitter taste. Its color is light red or rosé, and the crisp wine has an acidic tone and a slight smokiness. It is a medium-bodied wine with a strong aroma of alcohol.”
While Pinot Meunier is grown primarily in the Champagne region of France, it is also grown in limited quantities in Australia, Germany, California and Oregon.
Tree.com recommends the Pinot Meunier made by Domaine Chandon in Yountville, CA. I couldn’t resist looking on their website. Here is what I found: “The wine opens with bright fruit aromas on the nose lead by dominant notes of Santa Rosa plum, hibiscus and hints of cola nut. On the palate, the wine is mouth watering, deliciously fresh and approachable, as flavors of raspberry, boysenberry, and a trace of briar and juniper are carried on supple tannins for a sexy, satisfying texture.” Gotta love that description! Domaine Chandon recommends pairing the Pinot Meunier with olives, hard cheeses, burgers, grilled vegetables or creamy polenta.
If you’ve tried Domaine Chandon’s Pinot Meunier, or another winery’s Pinot Meunier, please share your experiences with us here.