By Celia Strong
Glad we’re back together again. It’s been a while, but none of us have been going without wine. We just haven’t been doing any together. So, today, we’re going to enjoy a rare new wine.
Our wine is made from a much lesser known grape variety: Pinot Meunier. Although not phonetically correct, if you pronounce it “Moon Yay,” you’ll be close enough and not be tongue tied.
This is a red variety that is a “cousin” in the Pinot family of grapes. In particular, it is a mutation, hundreds of years ago, from Pinot Noir.
Pinot Meunier’s most popular source is the Champagne region, where it is blended with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to make some pretty amazing and pretty expensive wines.
Actually, in recent years, Champagne producers have stepped up their public recognition of Meunier’s value in their wines. It gives them body and richness.
The name “Meunier” means “miller” in French. The underside of its grape vines leaves have flour-like dusty white down on them.
Growing Pinot Meunier is generally easier than growing Pinot Noir. Meunier buds later in the spring, which helps to avoid late frosts and ripens earlier, which helps it avoid early frosts.
Its production levels are more reliable than either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, growing 6 to 8 tons of grapes per acre. There are 26,000 acres of Pinot Meunier planted.
Compared to Pinot Noir, Meunier wines are lighter bodied, lighter colored and a bit more acidic. In Champagne, it gives fruitiness and aromatics to the wines.
Because it does not have the aging potential of either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, Champagnes meant to be drunk younger have a larger percentage of Meunier.
Besides the Champagne region, Meunier is grown, in small amounts, in the Loire Valley and Germany.
In California, Pinot Meunier is mostly used for blending in sparkling wines. Let’s face it, many California sparkling wine companies have their origins with French producers, especially Champagne houses.
Meunier was first brought to California in 1850. And, originally, producers did try to make red wines from it. Since 1990, most of the 200 acres of Meunier are planted in Carneros, where the majority of high quality California sparkling wines are sourced from.
Every once in a while, a winery will make some red wine from Meunier. Our wine this week is one of these few.
Bouchaine Winery is the oldest continuously operating in the Carneros district. They started making wine there long before the area was recognized for growing great Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
Boon Fly, a Missouri native who was the first to own this land, grew grapes and fruit trees in the late 1880s. In 1927, an Italian winemaker, Johnny Garetto, bought the parcel of land that is Bouchaine today. Beringer bought the estate from Garetto in 1962 and used it for storage and a blending facility until the Copelands and their partners bought what was a run-down property in 1981. They are the pioneers that started growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Carneros, after a lot of building renovating and soil restoration and replanting. They still own the 100-acre Bouchaine Winery.
Bouchaine Pinot Meunier is definitely a rare wine. For the 2012 vintage, only 879 bottles were made. The grapes for this wine were grown in Blocks 9 and 10 on the estate. These two blocks are cold and more susceptible to frost than the rest of the estate vineyards.
With Pinot Meunier ripening before Pinot Noir, though, it works. The 2012 grapes were large and very full of fruit flavors. Also, with larger grapes, the ratio of juice to skins was changed. It means the wines are fruitier and juicier. The red fruit flavors of Meunier and the baking spice flavors are especially pronounced in this vintage. Forty percent of the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 11 months.
This is all good news, but, we do have some not so good. Bouchaine has decided to sell its Pinot Meunier only at the winery (their SRP is $40). No more shipping to anyone else to sell.
For now, though, we are lucky. We do have a limited supply. So, if there is any time in the next few weeks when you might like a really good, rare bottle of wine for yourself or someone else, I recommend this Pinot Meunier. For $20.97. Enjoy!
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.