Pinot meunier is a French grape variety, famously known as one of the three main grapes in Champagne, along with pinot noir and chardonnay. As its name would suggest, it is in the pinot “family,” so it shares a DNA profile with pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, and others.
Though it produces a wine similar in style to pinot noir, it is a bit tougher, has thicker skin, buds later, ripens earlier, and will often outperform pinot noir and chardonnay in cooler vintages.
That said, the grape does have its challenges. Canopy (leaf) growth is often stunted, leaving the grape bunches vulnerable to extreme weather, wind, and hail. For pinot meunier to do best, it needs to be planted in areas that get a lot of sunshine but are well-protected from the elements, especially from deep gullies that trap frost.
France is by far the largest grower of pinot meunier, accounting for 77% of the world’s crop. Smaller amounts are grown in Germany, Australia, the USA, New Zealand, and Canada. It’s also popping up in the UK of late, playing a solid supporting role in the rise of British Fizz.
Blanc de Noirs sparkling wines usually have a significant portion of meunier in the blend, but on its own, it lacks pinot noir’s age-worthiness and elegance. For that reason, it won’t be a significant portion of the cuvée in luxury or vintage champagne.
What Does Pinot Meunier Taste Like?
Pinot meunier has a similar flavor profile to pinot noir. Cherry aromas dominate the nose, often mingling with redcurrant and pomegranate. Often described as earthy or mushroomy, the wine is light to medium-bodied with high acidity and a low tannin profile. The color is a bit darker than pinot noir, showing hues of ruby to brick. The palate is generally more acidic than pinot noir, and it can have a rustic quality to it, especially in its youth. Of course, it all depends on how the wine is finished, the oak treatment, and the attributes of the vintage.
Altogether, pinot meunier is a pleasant wine to enjoy on its own or with food. You’ll sometimes find varietal pinot meunier made as a still wine in Napa and Sonoma, especially in the Carneros region. Here, sparkling wine specialists like Mumm and Domaine Chandon grow it for blending into their sparkling wines but will occasionally release one as a single varietal—but certainly not every year.
What Foods Pair with Pinot Meunier?
Pinot meunier is a versatile match with all kinds of food. At dinner, it does best with duck, roast pork, wild boar, mushroom tart, mushroom lasagna, grilled chicken, fish, or vegetables, braised short ribs, shellfish, and octopus.
Because of its high acidity, pinot meunier makes an excellent aperitif paired with charcuterie, savory appetizers, and many types of cheese. The best cheeses to pair with pinot meunier include brie champignon, blue cheese, truffled pecorino, Manchego, or any sheep’s milk cheese.
Look for pinot meunier in regions that produce sparkling wine. If a winery is making Champagne-style traditional method sparkling, chances are they’ve got some pinot meunier in the mix.