17 May Under The Radar Pinot Meunier
Known mostly as a blending partner in Champagne, Pinot Meunier is often an under the radar grape. But there are those who see this grape as more than a workhorse and make beautiful expressions of this grape in both sparkling and still wines. I am a fan of still bottlings of Pinot Meunier and have enjoyed a few different bottlings. With aromas of bing cherry, raspberry, strawberry, minerality, and forest floor and with bright acidity, Pinot Meunier should be on everyone’s radar, as I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.
A classic Champagne blend consists of three grapes and while Chardonnay and Pinot Noir get top billing, Pinot Meunier, the workhorse of the trio, is often overlooked.
Pinot Meunier, with its fruity aromas, is used in blends and has been deemed by some as uninteresting and not a serious wine on its own. But there are producers who see the beauty and the potential of Pinot Meunier as a stand-alone grape. Pinot Meunier may be obscure to most wine drinkers, but it is more than a blending grape and when you find a single bottling, you are in for a treat.
Pinot Meunier gets its name “meunier” from the French word for “miller,” due to the silvery sheen of fine hairs that cover the leaves, looking like flour was sprinkled on top. Some have described it as a clonal mutation from the Pinot grape, which includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. But recent research challenges this belief.
Pinot Meunier was planted wildly throughout northern France in the 19th century and remains one of the most widely planted grapes in France. Pinot Meunier makes up 32 percent of the planting in Champagne, with smaller amounts found in the Loire Valley and in Germany, where it is also called Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe and Müller-Traube.
It is grown throughout America in small quantities, but most plantings can be found in Carneros AVA in California. There are also small quantities planted in Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and England.
Pinot Meunier can be planted in a range of soil types as well as in colder areas than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like. It prefers sunny slopes for maximum sunshine hours and needs protection from winds and frost. It tends to bud late in the season but ripens earlier. The result, compared to Pinot Noir, is lighter colored wines with higher acidity but similar sugar and alcohol levels.
Dozens of Champagne producers produce bottlings of just Pinot Meunier. What is harder to find are still wine bottlings of Pinot Meunier. I remember the first time I enjoyed one. It was the Irvine & Roberts 2016 Pinot Meunier from the Rouge Valley in Oregon. I was captivated by the wine, with its bright garnet, almost translucent, color and its perfumed nose of black raspberry, tart cherry, wild strawberry, rose petals and savory leather. Ever since I enjoyed that wine, I have been on a search for other bottlings of Pinot Meunier. And I am not alone!
There are other lovers of Pinot Meunier who, under the leadership of wine educator Traci Dutton and sommelier Chris Sawyer, have formed the Friends of Pinot Meunier Society.
“FOPMS is a passion project focused on the great role that this grape variety plays in crafting some of the finish offerings of Champagne, sparkling wines, and still wines,” Sawyer explained. “There is just so much to love about this grape.
Friends of Pinot Meunier Society was started after Dutton and Sawyer “shared an amazing bottle of Pinot Meunier bubbles with the late, great winemaker David Stevens.” Sawyer explained that David Stevens had planted the Pinot Meunier block at Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros and it was the “original still wine bottling he produced that made them realize how cool the little brother of Pinot Noir could be on its own.”
Other influential producers include Greg Lafollette who originally bottled Pinot Meunier from the van der Kamp Vineyard under his original eponymous label, as well as Milla Handley from Handley Cellars who also bottled Pinot Meunier.
As a group on Facebook, members share Pinot Meunier wines that they find, including bottlings from Flowers in Sonoma, J. Brix in the Santa Maria Valley and The Eyrie Vineyard in Dundee, Oregon, as well as Pinot Meunier-based Champagnes. Luckily, I have also enjoyed a few more.
Darting Pinot Meunier Trocken
Pfalz, Germany ($23)
Pfalz is Germany’s second-largest wine region, the largest red wine region, and the most diverse region with at least 45 white varieties and 22 red varieties planted. One of the red varieties planted is Pinot Meunier.
Weingut Darting has been growing grapes since 1780 but only started making wine in 1989, and winemaker Helmut Darting takes a minimal-intervention winemaking approach using native yeasts. Darting’s Pinot Meunier has ripe red fruit aromas of cherry, pomegranate and raspberry, as well as earthy notes. On the palate, the wine has fresh minerality and a backbone of acidity.
Two Shepherds 2019 Pinot Meunier
Hopkins Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($40)
The 2019 is the fourth vintage of Pinot Meunier for Two Shepherds. The grapes are sourced from the 65-acre Hopkins Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, the oldest planting of Pinot Meunier in the valley. The grapes are fermented with native yeasts in small bins and then aged for 10 months in a neutral oak barrel. The bottled wine is unfined and unfiltered. The 2019 has inviting fruit aromas of strawberry, raspberry, with underlying savory earth notes and white pepper. On the palate, the wine is elegant with lovely fruit tannins that lead to a mineral finish. Only 225 cases were made.
Bouchaine 2017 Pinot Meunier
Napa Valley, Carneros ($70)
Pinot Meunier is planted on Bouchaine’s 100-acre estate vineyard, which lies on the southern border of Napa Valley’s Carneros district. The fruit is hand-harvested at night and after a five-to-seven-day cold soak, the fruit is natively fermented in open-top tanks. The wines complete malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels, 20 percent of which are new, and are kept on lees for 10 months before bottling. This wine has lifted blueberry and cherry fruit aromas, as well as savory herbal notes of sage and thyme. On the palate, fruit tannins hit the palate first, following by clean acidity that make the mouth water. 360 cases were made.
Pinot Meunier is an often-overlooked grape, but it should be on your radar, as it is on mine.
Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.