Unsung Pinot Meunier

Champagne is normally made from a blend of three grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  Michael Edwards in The Finest Wines of Champagne, (Aurum, London 2009) tells us that the proportions planted are 38, 33 and 29 per cent respectively, which means that one third of the total area of the Champagne vineyard is planted to the otherwise unknown Pinot Meunier.  As the name hints, it is probably a mutation of Pinot Noir. The best sites, where the prized belemnite chalk forms South facing slopes which catch the sun, are given over to the well known pair of grapes. But the unsung Meunier has its moment as a hardier, late ripening variety, better suited to the cold, clay soils of the Marne Valley, where the other two grapes would struggle in this cool northern region.

Meunier is normally used as a part of the blend of standard Champagnes, with many better crus and vintage wines being made wholly of the two ‘noble’ varieties.  It contributes ‘palate-filling volume’ (Edwards) and attractive fruit in the short term.  But the variety has its supporters.  Edwards argues that it can be fine and structured.  If it is indeed a mutation of Pinot Noir, that should be no surprise.  I had the rare chance to test this at the annual major Champagne tasting where, amid the 70 producers, there were a handful who showed wines made wholly of Pinot Meunier.  The producers are supposed to bring only three wines each to the tasting, stacking the odds against such rarities appearing, but would you expect the independent minded Champenois to abide by this rule?  Of course not.

J. Charpentier, Cuvée Pierre-Henri, 100% Pinot Meunier, shows nice exotic fruit, apples to peach in flavour, an entry level Champagne with medium persistence, good but not particularly complex.  Surrounded by fabulous wines this could appear rather ordinary or indeed confirm the reputation of the grape variety, but drunk on its own it would be a perfectly good option and delicious in its own right.

Pierre-Christian TramierArlaux, 100% Pinot Meunier is aged for seven years on the lees producing a lovely exotic richness and giving the lie to the notion that this grape variety can’ t be aged.  It would be an interesting wine to match to food, given its richness but you only have to think of fish or chicken dishes in a rich sauce and it would click perfectly.

More whimsically, one can’t help wondering if John Arlott, would not have enjoyed the wines of the company which nearly shares his surname – well if you pronounce his name as if it were French.  Arlott was an exemplary cricket commentator of another era, who was also well known for fuelling that gravelly Hampshire burr with big name Champagne. In those days there were long periods of Test matches when absolutely nothing happened!
Tarlant, La Vigne d’Or 2002 is again 100% Pinot Meunier.  A single vintage wine, it has been on its lees for the best part of eight years, having been disgorged (ie process of removing the plug of dead yeast cells created by the second fermentation in the bottle) in 2010.  Pronounced aromas and flavours of apples, pineapple and guava, good acidity: overall, the word is exotic.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Pinot Meunier … take a bow.

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One Response to “Unsung Pinot Meunier”

  • Lefty Wright:

    And not forgetting Domaine de l’Arlot in Burgundy, not surprisingly also one of his favourite wine producers.

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