Pronounced pee-no moo-nee-yay, Pinot Meunier has the patience of a saint.
You might not know it, but for years this under-appreciated variety has worked behind the scenes, playing a support role to other varieties that receive all the glory and accolades, and acting as a vital component in the recipes for some of the most noted Champagne names in the world … Moët, Verve, anyone?
One of the three most common (of the seven legally allowed) varieties used in the world-famous wines of Champagne, Pinot Meunier nonetheless lives in the shadow of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as a blending component, and is considered something of a workhorse in Champagne.
The name “meunier” is French for “miller” – a term used to describe the “floury” appearance of the underside of the vine’s leaves.
Planted in the cooler areas, it shows better cold-weather resistance than Pinot Noir, budding later and ripening earlier, bringing a fruit intensity and a roundness to the Champagne blend.
However, it doesn’t age as well as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, and as such is generally found as an ingredient in non-vintage (NV) rather than vintage Champagne.
Pinot Meunier in Australia
Pinot Meunier has lived an incognito life in Australia.
Best’s in Victoria has plantings that date back to 1868, but most of us, until recently perhaps, would only have tried it as part of the Champagne style produced by some of our sparkling wine houses.
A clonal mutation of Pinot Noir, wine made from the meunier variety is typically lighter in colour and body than Pinot Noir, but with slightly higher acid levels.
But, just as it shares its DNA with its more famous cousin, it displays similar aromas and flavour notes as Pinot Noir – red cherry, cranberry, five-spice and leaf litter – occasionally showing slightly smoky flavours.
Australia’s growing thirst for lighter-bodied and fresher styles of red wines has led to dry red wines being produced from this silent achiever.
Unsurprisingly, the best regions in the country for the dry style of meunier also happen to be some of the best Australian sparkling regions.
Best’s Old Vine Pinot Meunier is the most famous local example, but there are some real charmers coming out of the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba, among others.
When paired with food, it makes a great match with richer-flavoured fish like tuna and salmon. It also shows a natural affinity with pork and duck, and proves a capable match for the spice of some Middle Eastern foods.
Perhaps all this time, Pinot Meunier has just been waiting: For us to discover how delicious, engaging and easy to drink it can be.
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