Pinot Meunier, also known as Meunier or Schwarzriesling, is a variety of black wine grape most noted for being one of the three main varieties used in the production of Champagne (the other two are the black variety Pinot Noir and the white Chardonnay). Until recently, producers in Champagne generally did not acknowledge Pinot Meunier, preferring to emphasise the use of the other noble varieties, but now Pinot Meunier is gaining recognition for the body and richness it contributes to Champagne. Pinot Meunier is approximately one-third of all the grapes planted in Champagne. It is a chimeric mutation of Pinot: its inner cell layers are composed of a Pinot genotype which is close to Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris; the outer, epidermal, layer is however made up of a mutant, distinctive, genotype. Pinot Meunier was first mentioned in the 16th century, and gets its name and synonyms (French Meunier and German Müller—both meaning miller) from flour-like dusty white down on the underside of its leaves.
Pinot Meunier is one of the most widely planted grapes in France but it is rather obscure to most wine drinkers and will rarely be seen on a wine label. The grape has been favoured by vine growers in northern France due to its ability to bud and ripen more reliably than Pinot Noir. The vine's tendency to bud later in the growing season and ripen earlier makes it less susceptible to developing coulure which can greatly reduce a prospective crop. For the last couple of centuries, Pinot Meunier has been the most widely planted Champagne grape, accounting for more than 40% of the region's entire plantings. It is most prevalent in the cooler, north facing vineyards of the Vallee de la Marne and in the Aisne department. It is also widely grown in the Aube region in vineyards where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would not fully ripen.
Compared to Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier produces lighter coloured wines with slightly higher acid levels but can maintain similar sugar and alcohol levels. As part of a standard Champagne blend, Pinot Meunier contributes aromatics and fruity flavours to the wine. Champagnes with a substantial proportion of Pinot Meunier tend not to have as much significant aging potential as Champagnes that are composed primarily of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. It 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. A notable exception is the Champagne house of Krug which makes liberal use of Pinot Meunier in its long-lived prestige cuvees.
During the 19th century, Pinot Meunier was widely planted throughout northern France, especially in the Paris Basin. It was found across the northern half of country from the Loire Valley to Lorraine. Today, Pinot Meunier is found outside of Champagne in dwindling quantities in the Loire Valley regions of Touraine and Orleans as well as the Cotes de Toul and Moselle regions. In these regions Pinot Meunier is used to make light bodied reds and rosés. These wines most often fall into the vin Gris style are characterized by their pale pink colour and distinctive smoky notes.
Alternative Names: Meunier, Gris Meunier, Farineux, Noirin Enfarine, Mullerrebe, Muller-Traube, Schwarzriesling, Dusty Miller, Miller's Burgundy