Pinot Meunier grapes are one of just three different grape varieties that can be used to make champagne. The other types of grapes are Chardonnay (white) and Pinot Noir (also red).
The second largest variety in terms of volume for champagne grapes, pinot meunier grapes account for 32% of grapes grown in Champagne.
The meunier grape gets a bit of bad press, somehow being perceived as less worthy than pinot noir and chardonnay. But in reality, pinot meunier grapes are widely used in non-vintage blends. The variety is valuable to soften or round out the youth of NV wines. Pinot meunier grapes also help blend the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
Pinot meunier grapes are:
- Mostly grown in the Marne Valley
- Characterised by their resilience or hardiness. They can handle cooler weather better than Pinot Nior, which is why meunier is grown in the Marne Valley, an area known for harsher frosts.
- Named after the French word for miller (as in a flour mill). They got their name because meunier grapes have a white powder coating on the under-side of their leaves which looks like a miller’s flour dust.
- Not known for long ageing, pinot meunier grapes aretraditionally not seen in vintage wines and cuvée de prestige champagnes.
Understanding the flavours imparted by pinot meunier grapes
Every house uses a particular blend of the grapes for its NV wines, like a signature recipe.
Once you start tasting more champagne and consider the grape proportions in each wine, you should start to identify your preference.
I tend to think of the three grapes as sitting on a spectrum from dark fruits and rich character (at the pinot noir end) to light fruits and bright, fresh character at the chardonnay end with meunier occupying the middle ground.
Pinot meunier grapes bring flavours of fruits that I would describe as yellow/orange… like peaches, apricots, mandarins.
Homework assignment #Champagneschool
Strictly speaking, I wouldn’t seek out a champagne high in pinot meunier for pinot meunier’s sake, like I would chardonnay or pinot noir. But there are houses who use more pinot meunier and it does contribute to the champagne’s character and taste.
Moet and Chandon NV uses a high proportion of pinot meunier grapes in its NV (30-40% meunier, 30-40% pinot noir and 20-30% chardonnay).
Billecart Salmon also has a high meunier blend. While the blend is not listed on their site, it is 40% pinot meunier, 30% pinot noir, and 30% chardonnay (sources – my notes from visit to the house in June 2015, and notes from a master class with Bernadette O’Shea in October 2016).
And the future looks bright for pinot meunier grapes in champagne. The rule book in champagne is currently being re-drafted (or thrown out the window) with the rise of ‘grower champagnes’. A lot of the traditional, accepted practices – including the role of pinot meunier grapes – are being challenged by growers. Many growers are starting to use pinot meunier grapes as a standalone variety in their champagnes. I haven’t tried one yet but it’s on my homework list for my next trip to Champagne to try one and I will report back!
Santé my champs lovers
Make sure you post a pic and tag bubbleandflute #Champagneschool to let me know you’re doing your homework and what you think!
More about champagne grapes
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