According to The New York Times’ Eric Asimov, we should “pity” Pinot Meunier, the “workhorse grape” that has spent its existence contributing to blends, without being taken seriously on its own.
And while it has happily taken the role of supporting actress to the Hollywood A-Lister Pinot Noir for years, new winemaking techniques have recently shown that the humble Meunier is not only worthy of a leading role, it’s a rising star.
“Pinot Meunier is often a humble afterthought, if it’s given any thought at all,” Asimov writes.
“Yet while the grape hierarchy is unlikely to change any time soon, a handful of small grower-producers in Champagne are demonstrating the very real potential of Pinot Meunier for producing wines that are not merely palatable but superb: distinctive, joyful and intriguing.”
Pinot Meunier is one of the three “noble” varieties used in sparkling wine and generally speaking it is rarely made as a straight table red.
With similar flavours and aromas to Pinot Noir – the grape from which it most likely mutated – Pinot Meunier is slightly higher in acidity, less earthy and has more of a high-toned citrusy character.
In sparkling wine, Pinot Meunier is considered to be vital in adding fruit character and freshness to the power of Pinot Noir and the grace of Chardonnay – in other words it’s a damn good supporting actress.
But it’s not just French producers who are giving new life to the grape variety, a number of Australian winemakers are also demonstrating that Pinot Meunier is equally at home in the spotlight.
These local labels are not only blending Meunier with a range of varieties, they’re also producing single varietal reds, where Pinot Meunier is the leading lady.
Whichever way the grape is used, the wines are well worth a try, because as Pinotphiles, anything that starts with Pinot is ok by us!
‘Young Vine’ Pinot Meunier by Best’s of Great Western
Best’s have produced a small quantity of single varietal red wines from Pinot Meunier since the 1960s, with their wines gaining cult-like status over the years, and a line of loyal drinkers, along the way.
The ‘Young Vine’ Pinot Meunier is produced from vines planted in 1971 that were taken from cuttings of the original 1867 plantings by Henry Best.
So what can we expect from this wine? This light wine delivers above its weight with punchy cherry and raspberry flavours and smooth sappy tannins. A moreish tingle of delicate sweet fruit persists on the finish.
Sounds good to us!
Murdoch Hill’s Surrey Pinot Meunier
Now moving across the border to South Australia, where in the Adelaide Hills, Murdoch Hill has made its Surrey Pinot Meuiner. The Surrey is drawn from two high-altitude vineyards, the first being in Uraidla. This vineyard has a north-west aspect delivering the sunshine hours required to fully ripen the 20-year old Meunier. The second parcel is located on the western ridges of Oakbank.
For the 2016 vintage, the Surrey delivered an elegant, silky red, with Mike Bennie from the Wine Front claiming it “rockets out of the glass”.
“It’s all pickled cherries, sweet spice, crisp acidity and light, powdery tannins. It sits up in the palate and positively bursts forth. It’s a smile on your dial and a dip in your step,” Bennie says.
Elderslie Hills Blend #2
Staying in the Adelaide Hills, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are co-stars in this sophisticated and limited release, the 2016 Elderslie Hills Blend #2.
Different Drop says this wine features sweet forest berries, earthy smells, mushroom and truffle. They also say that it’s “fresh but sturdy” and “intriguing and delicious all at once”.
We’re lining up for a bottle or two!
Charles Melton Rose of Virginia Rosé
The Barossa Valley’s Charles Melton Rose of Virginia Rosé for many years has been regarded as the benchmark of Australian Rosé. This wine mainly comprises of Grenache and Cabernet, so Pinot Meunier is the support act in this one, with Shiraz and Pinot Noir also in on the act.
The end result is a Rosé with beautiful balance on the palate and just the right amount of crisp acidity.
The curtain call?
At the end of the day, Pinot Meunier is also a great wine to drink with food. It has an affinity for pork and shellfish, but also works with blue cheese, charcuterie and short ribs. So when you’re looking for a red wine to match slow cooked meats or casseroles this winter, why not give Pinot Meunier a chance? We sure will be!