Pinot Meunier is a black wine grape varietAL most noted for being one of the three main grapes used in the making of Champagne (the other two; the black Pinot Noir and the white Chardonnay). Until recently, Champagne makers did not acknowledge Pinot Meunier, preferring to emphasize the use of the other noble varieties, but now Pinot Meunier is gaining recognition for the body and richness it contributes to Champagne.
Indigenous to northern France, Pinot Meunier's occupies slightly less than half the Champenois vineyard, particularly the cold northern valleys. The name Meunier (French) / muller (German), or 'miller', is taken from the downy, floury aspect of the underside of the vine's leaves.
In the early 1990s, research conducted by plant geneticist Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis revealed a common heritage between Pinot Meunier and a number of other grape varieties. Based on DNA, she concluded that an original Pinot prototype and Gouais Blanc are the parents of Pinot Meunier and fifteen other Gallic varieties, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Pinot Meunier's overriding advantage is its resistance to frost and coulure (the failure of the flowers to develop into berries). It buds and flowers late and ripens early, also an advantage in cold growing areas. Well-suited to chalky clay or loam soils, it is susceptible to rot due to the compactness of its bunches. The berries are deep blue and oval and the fruit high in acidity, moderately high in alcohol, low in tannin and full of sweet fruit flavour.
In the blend of Champagne and other classically styled sparkling wines, Pinot Meunier primarily contributes fruitiness and subtle detail to the cuvee. On its own it does not age well, but does yield bright, fresh, fruity light red and rose wines of crisp acidity and slightly smoky character when produced as a still wine.
Pinot Meunier is grown principally in Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Loire Valley and also grown in Alsace, New Zealand and Slavic Eastern Europe.