This grape is one of the most widely planted wine grapes in France, yet most American wine lovers have never heard of it. Can you guess its name? You’re right, it is our newest favorite grape: the Pinot Meunier!
During a recent visit to Bouchaine Vineyards, we had the pleasure of tasting their 2014 Estate Pinot Meunier. Wow, what an experience! Combining the fruit forward assertiveness of a Pinot Noir with the lingering not-too-sweet/not-too-tart finish of a Montepulciano, this varietal quickly became our newest favorite grape. Like children and puppies, we have a lot of favorites when it comes to wine varietals!
Pinot Meunier, with small, dark berries and wrinkled and jagged leaves, has been used as a wine grape since the 1500’s. It gets its name from the appearance of the leaves, which seem to be lightly dusted with flour on top and even more heavily underneath. Meunier is the French word for miller, a trade that is also liberally dusted with flour. This is an apt connection that has survived the centuries.
Pinot Meunier has been the darling of Champagne makers almost from the birth of sparkling wine. Compared to Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, this dark-skinned grape produces very pale champagne that is typically soft and supple, with a bit more acid than the other two mainstays. The vines bud late in the season, yet the berries ripen early. This makes it an ideal crop in areas with late frosts and early autumn rains. Today, about 40% of the Champagne region of France is planted with Pinot Meunier.
So clearly Pinot Meunier has become the big dog in the French champagne region, but this success has not translated to American vineyards until recently. In addition to Bouchaine Vineyards, where the grape is presented in a still wine, Domaine Chandon and Mumm Napa have used this grape in their sparkling wines since the 1980’s.
The next time you’re out wine tasting with friends (why not this weekend?) drop a little wine wisdom on the crowd and mention the king of French champagne: Pinot Meunier. It’s time it received the credit it was due around here!
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