Meunier is the most important grape variety in Champagne. It covers more than 1/3 of the vineyard land in Champagne while Pinot Noir covers slightly less than 1/3 and Chardonnay closer to ¼. Of those three grape varieties, it is the only one that is indigenous to the region. In the past it was often reffered to as Pinot Meunier, and was thought to be a relative of Pinot Noir, but it turns out that there is no relation. It is a native son.
Many of the big houses belittle Meunier, saying it is a fruity variety only suitable for young blends. Almost all of them use some, and I can’t help but think that many of them use more than they are willing to admit. It is interesting that the two big houses that are not at all ashamed of Meunier are also two of the greatest: Krug and Billecart-Salmon.
Why does Meunier get such a bad rap? I can’t help but think that it has more to do with the fact that its vineyard mates, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are ennobled by Burgundian origin and international reputation. Meunier is less well known than the smallest bit grape variety in Bordeaux and less hip than Alpine varieties such as Savagnin. Meunier is also almost entirely missing from the Grand Cru villages of Champagne- the Grand Valley of the Marne and the Mountain of Reims are so well suited to Pinot Noir and the Cote des Blancs is ideal for Chardonnay. These crus are also ideally situated near Reims in Epernay for easy transport of juice, wine and grapes.
For the many of you that have had great older bottles of Rene Collard Champagne, I am preaching to choir when I say that Meunier is capable of greatness. The criticism that the variety is not capable of long ageing is plain false. Two of the best bottles of Champagne I had in 2013 were both 1964’s made of pure Meunier from Michel Loriot in Festigny. We currently have two great modern versions of that wine in the 2007 Michel Loriot "Monodie Meunier" Brut Champagne Extra Brut ($49.99) and the 2006 Michel Loriot "Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes" Brut Champagne ($49.99) which are both made from the l’Arpent parcel that was planted in 1942.
Today, we will be tasting these along with magnums of the pure Meunier Bruno Michel Brut Rosé Champagne ($89.99) and the Meunier heavy blends Billecart-Salmon "Brut Reserve" Champagne ($44.99) and Collard-Picard "Cuvee Selection" Brut Champagne ($34.99) to explore this misunderstood variety. The tasting is at the Redwood City Store and will be $10, walk in anytime between 5pm and 6:30 to taste!
A toast to you!