This black gape variety is best known as being one of the three main varieties used in the production of Champagne. It is a most distinct variant of the Pinot Noir grape, both in growth habits and appearance. This grape buds later and ripens earlier than Pinot Noir and is often used as an insurance grape against poor vintages. Until recently Pinot Meunier was the “poor sister” to the other two Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay hardly ever earning a mention. The grape is slowly gaining recognition for the body and richness it can contribute to Champagne. Although it is grown in many regions throughout the world and is one of the most widely planted grapes in France it is very seldom used to produce a varietal wine.
Pinot Meunier produces lighter colored wines than Pinot Noir, with slightly higher acid levels but are able to maintain similar sugar and alcohol levels. When used as part of a standard champagne blend, Pinot Meunier contributes aromatics and fruity flavors to the wine. Champagnes that contain a substantial proportion of Pinot Meunier tend to not have as much aging potential as champagnes that are composed primarily of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. This grape is therefore most commonly used for champagnes that are intended to be consumed young, when the soft, plushy fruit of the Pinot Meunier is at its peak.
Pinot Noir was first documented in the 1500s in France. The grape spread and was widely planted throughout Northern France, planted from the Loire Valley to Lorraine and especially in the Paris Basin.
Research conducted by plant geneticist Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis in the early 1990s revealed a common heritage between Pinot Meunier and a number of other grape varieties indigenous to Northern France. Based on DNA fingerprinting, she was able to conclude that an original 'Pinot' prototype and an obscure vine called Gouais Blanc are the parents of Pinot Meunier.
The fact that Pinot Meunier can stand up to frosts in ways that chardonnay and Pinot noir cannot, and also buds later and ripens earlier, is one of the reasons this grape thrives in France's Champagne region. Although chardonnay and Pinot noir get the lion share of attention, Pinot Meunier is actually the most widely grown grape in this region, accounting for more than 40% of the regions entire plantings. Outside of Champagne there are small areas in the Loire Valley using Pinot Meunier to produce fruity, light bodied reds and Roses. These include the regions of Orleans, Touraine as well as the Moselle and Cotes de toul regions.
While the main plantings of Pinot meunier are in the Champagne region of France. Australia and California cultivate limited amounts of Pinot meunier for use in their Champagne style sparkling wines. A small amount is also grown in Germany.
Pinot Meunier as a varietal produces a wine that is dry and fruity, with a slightly bitter taste. Its color is light red or rose, and this crisp wine has an acidic tone and can display a slight smokiness. Flavors and aromas of bright red fruits such as raspberries are often present. Pinot Meunier is a medium-bodied wine that typically has a strong aroma of alcohol. The natural acidity of Pinot Meunier means it pairs well with foods such as Steak Dianne, Duck and blue cheeses.