First Taste: Billecart-Salmon Nicolas François 2008
Four vintages of Cuvée Nicolas François tasted...
Although frequently lived in the shadows of the more fashionable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties, Pinot Meunier is finally finding its footing in the world of viticulture. The grape, which also goes by the names Meunier and Schwarzriesling, is a red-skinned variety cultivated mostly in the region of Champagne. In the past, Pinot Meunier was often viewed as inferior to the other two noble varieties, though things are changing. Nowadays, Pinot Meunier is lauded for the richness, weight, and red-fruit flavors that it brings to sparkling wine. Certain producers are now choosing to vinify it varietally.
In Champagne, Pinot Meunier represents about one-third of all vineyard plantings. Genetically, it is a mutation of Pinot Noir and was first acknowledged during the 1500s. The variety has somewhat become the signature grape of the Aube, Champagne’s most southerly region, as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir struggled to ripen in the area’s chilly climates in the past.
In the glass, Pinot Meunier generally produces higher-acid wine than Pinot Noir, though sugar and alcohol levels are generally the same. However, wines produced from Pinot Meunier generally do not have the same aging potential as those produced from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir, though there are certainly exceptions. In French, the word Meunier means miller, which likely refers to the white dust (reminiscent of flour) found on the bottom side of Pinot Meunier’s leaves.
Outside of Champagne, Pinot Meunier can be found in the Loire Valley, Germany (Württemberg and Baden), California, and New Zealand. In addition to bubbles, these regions also vinify the grape into light-bodied red and rosé wines rather than bubbles. These wines are known for their pale hue in the glass, as well as their bright acid, light fruitiness, and smoky undertones.