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About Pinot Meunier
(Synonyms: Auvernat Meunier, Blanc Meunier, Blanche Feuille, Carpinet, Cerny Mancujk, Créedinet, Dusty Miller, Farineux noir, Fernaise, Frésillon, Fromenté, Frühe blaue Müllerrebe, Goujeau, Gris Meunier, Meunier, Meunier Gris, Miller Grape, Miller's Burgundy, Molnar Toke, Molnar Toke Kek, Molnarszölö, Morillon Tacone, Morone Farinaccio, Moucnik, Müllerrebe, Muller-Traube, Noirin Enfariné, Noirien de Vuillapans, Pineau Meunier, Pino Meine, Pinot negro, Plant de Brie, Plant Meunier, Plant Munier, Postitschtraube, Rana Modra Mlinaria, Rana Modra Mlinarica, Resseau, Riesling noir, Sarpinet, Trézillon, Wrotham Pinot)
Pinot Meunier (sometimes just called "Meunier") is a red-wine grape of the Pinot family (which famously mutates easily), most closely related to Pinot Noir.
Pinot Meunier seems to have emerged as a distinct varietal about five centuries ago. At one time, it was widely grown throughout northern France; it is still prevalent, but is now especially concentrated in the Champagne region, where it is one of the three major grapes used in the making of sparkling Champagne wines, to which it contributes body and richness. It is also nowadays starting to be bottled as a monovarietal red, though such bottlings are still not common. It can be vinified as a red of some depth, or also as a rosé, or as an off-dry red, even occasionally as a white wine; it is the table red that is of most interest among the monovarietal bottlings.
In Champagne, for no clear reason (some trace it back a prejudice of the original M. Moët), Pinot Meunier was long somewhat disdained, considered a "minor" component of Champagnes; more recently (though the house of Krug championed Pinot Meunier throughout), it has come to be seen as important and durable, and some excellent makers are now even producing 100% Pinot Meunier Champagnes. The idea that Pinot Meunier, as a blending ingredient or on its own, does not age well is belied by numerous counter-examples, but it continues to be parroted.
Pinot Meunier as a monovarietal table red shows clear similarities to its more famous cousin, Pinot Noir, but has a distinctive qualities all its own. Such wines are typically light to medium in body and fruity in aroma and flavor, often richly so. Some describe a "smoky" quality, others refer to a "rustic" quality (whatever that may be suposed to indicate, possibly what others call "earthiness"). Flavors cited range from the typical red berries (especially raspberry) through the darker blue-black fruits (such as blueberry), as well as an background of "spiciness".
In France, it is felt that by far the best Pinot Meunier comes from old vines (something true of many varietals), so New World specimens may not have as much depth as the grape is capable of.
There seems little awareness so far of monovarietal Pinot Meunier, and the literature readily available is sparse; that is a great shame, as it is a delicious wine.
Factoid: Pinot Meunier is genetically a "chimera": its inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to Pinot noir or Pinot gris; the outer, epidermal, layer is however made up of a mutant, distinctive, genotype.
Some Descriptions of Pinot Meunier Wines
"Compared to Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier produces lighter colored wines with slightly higher acid levels but can maintain similar sugar and alcohol levels. As part of a standard champagne blend, Pinot Meunier contributes aromatics and fruity flavors to the wine. Champagnes with a substantial proportion of Pinot Meunier tend not to have as much significant aging potential as champagnes that are composed primarily of Chardonnay or Pinot noir. It is therefore most commonly used for champagnes that are intended to be consumed young, when the soft, plushy fruit of the Pinot Meunier is at its peak. A notable exception is the Champagne house of Krug which makes liberal use of Pinot Meunier in its long-lived prestige cuvees."
- Forgotten Grapes
"But a few producers out there – almost exclusively outside of France, in places like Germany, the U.S., and Australia – do produce red 100% varietal Pinot Meunier. Those wines may be tough to find because of their scarcity and the fact that most Pinot Meunier planted in those countries goes into sparkling wines, but they are worth seeking out, as they are usually light, crisp, highly drinkable red wines with a surprising level of complexity to them, wines that with a slight chill on them rival roses as the perfect quaff on a hot summer’s eve."
"Though Meunier is rarely sold as a single varietal it still covers over 1/3 the vineyards in Champagne. Slightly higher in acidity that Pinot Noir, the grape from which it most likely mutated. Similar flavors and aromas to Pinot Noir are common, though with less earthiness and more of a high-toned citrusy character. In addition to the vast Champagne vineyards Meunier can also be found in many still reds of the Loire valley, most notably those of Moselle, Touraine and Cotes de Toul. In the Wurttenberg area of southwestern Germany it is known as Mullerrebe and Schwarzriesling. Pinot Meunier may also be found in the traditional method sparklers from Australia and Carneros. Meunier takes its name from the bottom of its leaves which are white as if coated with flour (meunier is French for 'Miller')."
- Fine Wine Concierge
"Winemakers across the pond hardly have a monopoly on this grape. A handful of American winemakers craft wine with this varietal as well, though their focus is on still, dry wine, not bubbly. Among them are: Long Island’s Duck Walk is the only winery on the East Coast to produce a still, dry wine exclusively from Meunier. The wine is light-bodied with fleshy notes of raspberry and a touch of smokiness. River Road sources their fruit from the Russian River Valley, crafting a wine with lots of depth and style. This version is more old world in style, with notes of blueberry, ginger and spice. Novy Family Wines – owned in part by Adam and Dianna (Novy) Lee of Siduri Wines - also makes a still Meunier that’s big and bold with notes of raspberry fruit. And, at sparkling wine estate Domaine Chandon, their Meunier is still, not bubbly. It also shows the wine’s fruity flavors of cherry and raspberry with hints of earth and oak."
"But about a dozen American wineries say the French have got meunier all wrong. Instead of making white wine out of it, Yankees are fermenting pinot meunier on the skins and making red table wine, as they do with merlot, cabernet and syrah. They’re doing so not to be different but simply because pinot meunier tastes better than most winemakers or wine drinkers realized it could."
"Pinot Meunier can be used to make still red wines that often are fruit-forward in flavor and light in tannin, akin to Pinot Noir. . . Meunier is winning over fans who like its bright, fresh flavor of raspberries and cranberries, balanced with tannins. Best drunk after less than a year or two in the bottle, it has a tangy, refreshing finish that begs another sip."
- Wine Zag
" Champagne makers look to Meunier for body enhancement or plushness. The wine is high in acid and light in color. Considering today’s consumer trend for drinking wines that lean into their acid profiles, why isn’t more Pinot Meunier bottled unblended as serious red wine?"
- Fringe Wine
"The overall impression from this wine is very similar to Pinot Noir and I would have liked to taste this side by side with a Pinot Noir from the same vintage and producer to see what the differences really are. If I had this served to me at a blind tasting, I would peg it as Pinot Noir every single time and probably wouldn't hesitate about it."
- Professional Friends of Wine
"Short longevity also keeps it from many appearances bottled as a stand-alone varietal red wine, although some areas of France bottle a rosé made predominantly from meunier."
- Zin Valle Vineyards
"If you can find a bottle or decide to order online, you’ll first notice the ruby to magenta color, and an unexpected level of translucence. It’s this same light color that keeps you from ever seeing it when blended into Champagne. You’ll find bouquets of cranberry and cherry, but you should also notice a particular scent pinot meunier is known for — smoke. The grapes themselves have a natural smokiness that comes straight through to the wine. Take a sip and the fruity flavors will dominate. You’ll likely pick up notes of strawberries and raspberries. Pinot meunier has relatively high acid levels, so you’ll find that they are brighter and crisper than most reds, and you’ll sometimes pick up a tart cherry flavor."
- Betty's Wine Musings
"If you do find a standalone still Pinot Meunier . . . 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.'"
- Steven Kent Portfolio
"The wine is Pinot Noir’s rustic country cousin…Mary Ann to Pinot Noir’s Ginger. It is overladen with wonderful plummy fruit, great aromatics, and is a wonderful accompaniment to all kinds of food."
Some Pinot Meuniers to Try
(About this list.)
There is a surprisingly high number of monovarietal Pinot Meunier red table wines to be found for sale, but the great majority are over—most well over—our arbitrary $20 price limit, or are very scarce, or both. If you want a reasonably available Pinot Meunier for under $20, your choices are few, and those we list below. But, though they may be few, the wine is well worth a go.
The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond ♦ symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
- Duck Walk Vineyards Pinot Meunier, $10 - $11.
(Long Island, New York State)
($10.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).
Some quotations and facts:
Bright, tart candied cherry aromas are dusted with saddle leather and cinnamon. Light-bodied; gets tarter on the finish, where the fruit becomes more cranberryish. 87 points.
Long Island’s Duck Walk is the only winery on the East Coast to produce a still, dry wine exclusively from Meunier. The wine is light-bodied with fleshy notes of raspberry and a touch of smokiness.
It pours out a bright ruby red of medium body. Blackberry, bramble and oak fill the nose and continue on the palate. The tannins were firm but not harsh. A pleasant red wine and a fortunate discovery, as no one else on the east coast makes a Pinot Meunier on its own.
A fun wine to try and one that you won't find anywhere else on your wine tour travels is the 2006 Pinot Meunier, a Burgundian-styled red made from seven acres of grapes from the Champagne region of France planted in Peconic's lush loam. The taste is light and balanced with black currant and plum notes.
On the red side, the 2008 Pinot Meunier, a grape that Duck Walk is the only producer on the east coast to make on its own, was a ripe red cherry that I really enjoyed.
[T]ry the 2010 Pinot Meunier, which offers hints of currant, raspberry, and cherry.
The Damianos family’s second winery, Duck Walk, makes an unusual red wine from this grape, styled more like the German version, as a light, barbecue-friendly red.
- River Road Vineyards "Hopkins Vineyard" Pinot Meunier, $17 (apparently only available at Total Wine outlets).
(Russian River Valley, California)
Some quotations and facts:
River Road sources their fruit from the Russian River Valley, crafting a wine with lots of depth and style. This version is more old world in style, with notes of blueberry, ginger and spice.
A boutique-scale release, the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Meunier is vinted from the second crop of this more productive cousin of Pinot Noir, and owes its concentration to late-picked, Lilliputian clusters. Wild grape, violets and juicy Beaujolais-style flavor finishes on a firm, plum skin note.
Sonoma County harvest Fair (2010), Gold Medal.
This is a tough wine, marked by hard acids and tannins, and an absence of the fruit to stand up to it. It’s bone dry and severe, with thin cherry-skin and cola flavors. 82 points.
River Road also won a silver medal [at the fourth annual Sommelier Challenge] for its 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Meunier. Pinot meunier is typically used in sparkling wine and Champagne blends, but there are a handful of producers who make a table wine from this fairly rare grape variety.
- Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier, $17 - $23.
(Mendocino County, California)
Some quotations and facts:
The nose shows red fruits, strawberry and cherry, and pencil lead. Tarter red fruits show on the palate, cranberry and redcurrant, along with sage and pencil lead. Flavors don’t change, but deepen on the mid-palate, while the pencil lead lingers on the finish. Tannins sneak up on the mid-palate and finish, smooth and drying. Recommended (88).
A soft and leathery Pinot Meunier, this grape is not something seen alone very often in California, as it’s mostly blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in sparkling wines. Straightforward in its dried cherry taste, but interesting and worth a try. 87 points.
The 2012 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier is a redheaded beauty that's rarely found as a single varietal, and it has generous notes of gingerbread.
Light bodied with floral and cherry aromas. The nose could have mistaken it for a Pinot Noir. The wine had a pleasant zing to it that went well with dinner. Strawberries and a faint yeastiness could be detected. Nice finish as the yeastiness lingered. We definitely liked it.
[P]ronounced earthy, mushroomy character, with some cherry fruit and noticeable tannins.
I particularly enjoyed the 2002 Saint Gregory Mendocino Pinot Meunier . . . A major reason I liked [it] is that many of the other red wines taste like they're catering to a Midwestern sweet tooth, with a bit too much residual sugar.
[A]n acidic wine, with berry flavors, and a mid-length finish, this went well with all our food choices (Laima even had a second glass!).
Color resembles Pinot Noir, vibrant red. This wine had a savory nose with hints of cherry, cola, mineralitly, earth, and toasted oak. Nice structure with medium tannin. The initial flavors remind me of pinot noir, but then their are rustic qualities to the wine. This medium bodied wine had interesting flavors, cherry, asian spice, roasted herbs. The acidity provided a nice "lift" and finished with toasty notes. Interesting wine. Grade: B
I think pinot meunier is a little feistier than pinot noir in flavor, also a little heartier, and not as finicky on the vine. The [Saint Gregory] is full of juicy berry fruit but also shows a certain brooding quality, perhaps lent by herbal aromas, or maybe the result of oak. The smokiness of the trout, the tanginess of the new potatoes and almonds, and the refreshing burst of the snap peas and company all had a little mouth-party with the herbal notes, the juiciness, and the velvety tannins in the Saint Gregs respectively.
For a Splurge
The problem here is simply availability: there are praiseworthy Pinot Meunier bottlings from not a few estimable vintners—Van der Kamp, Novy Family Winery, Bouchaine, La Rochelle Winery, Bjornstad, just to mention a few—but all are available only from a very few retailers (typically one or two, or often just the winery itself). The one exception is the widely distributed Domaine Chandon Carneros Pinot Meunier, from the noted champagne maker, available at retail for from $20 to $35
($28.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).
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