Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Pinot Meunier

This week in our Get to Know a Grape feature, we'll be looking at a lesser-known red grape varietal: Pinot Meunier.

There can be little doubt that Pinot Meunier is the poorer cousin of Pinot Noir. In fact, if grapes were to receive label royalties, Pinot Noir would probably be living in a Beverley Hills mansion, while Pinot Meunier would have to be content with a one-bedroom apartment in the outskirts of the city. Pinot Meunier accounts for about a third of the grapes planted in France's Champagne region, but it is afforded only minor billing on most Champagne labels (in fact, many Champagne houses don't mention Pinot Meunier at all!). Despite this, it plays a vital role in Champagne making, giving Champagnes body and richness and turning the pricey sparklers from party fizzlers into memorable wines that can stand on their own. It also contributes fruity aromas and flavours to wines, fleshing out the bouquets created by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Outside of Champagne, Pinot Meunier is used to produce still red wines in Germany (where it goes under the names of Schwarzriesling ('Black Riesling'), Müllerrebe, or Müller-Traube. These wines can be light (in both flavour and colour) and fruity or rich, dark, and full. It has also recently been used to produce light and fruity white wines as well as making for a unique, pinkish and slightly smoky wine in Germany's southwestern Württemberg region -- quite a diverse grape, to say the least! Pinot Meunier is also used in California to make sparkling wines and Australia to make still red wines.

Pinot Meunier is also more apt to survive frosts than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, making it a safer bet for Champagne winemakers. However, Champagnes made from a large proportion of Pinot Meunier are usually not very suitable for long aging, so best to drink them quickly! An exception to this is Krug Champagne, who use a large percentage of Pinot Meunier in even their highest-end and longest-aging wines.

So, the next time you're having a glass of Champagne, remember Pinot Meunier. It's likely responsible for making your glass -- and your evening -- that much more memorable! 

The Short Version:
Names: Pinot Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe and Müller-Traube
Flavour Profile (Sparkling): Rich, buttery, smoky flavours
Flavour Profile (Still): Light, fruity, although can also be made more intense. 
Best-Known Regions: Champagne, Germany, California, Australia
Price Range: $40+
Food Pairings (Sparkling): Strawberries (obviously), sushi, thai food
Food Pairings (Still): Pork, lamb, cold cuts

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