Updated: Mar 8
Words by Lucy Edwards
Often seen as the ugly cousin of the two noble grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay & Pinot Noir), Meunier is becoming more and more appreciated for what it is: The most representative of the champagne blend.
Meunier, historically known as Pinot Meunier, is a dark berried grape and a clonal mutation of the Pinot group. It shares the DNA of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and has long been regarded as the work horse of champagne, maturing young and with little potential to age.
Dominating the plantations of Vallée de la Marne, Meunier covers over 40% of the total appellation due to its late ripening and budding qualities. The Vallée de la Marne is a low-lying valley between the steeper mountain slopes, which is why it receives higher frost which becomes a risk for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Bud break occurs later than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which makes it less prone to frost damage and making it a widely used insurance grape against poor vintages. The soils of Vallée de la Marne contain a layer of limestone, which is why the “rustic grape” tends to grow well there.
However, according to Jerome Dehours, it is the most interesting grape in Champagne and “much more adapted to the terroir”. Because of his work with the “miller’s burgundy” grape (due to the flour-like dustiness that appears on its leaves), Jerome has been crowned by his fans as the “King of Meunier”.
He believes it needs to be highlighted as part of the key identity of Champagne, as it is more special that the supposed ‘noble grapes of Champagne’, because it’s so rare to find it elsewhere in the world.
He is not alone, as many producers are deciding to showcase the versatility of the grape with meunier focused cuvees. Here are our picks;
- Jerome Dehours, Terres de Meunier
A zero dosage champagne made exclusively from old vine meunier from a few different vineyards in the Vallée de la Marne. It was created from the 2013 vintage onwards and always includes a proportion of reserve wine. It is aged both in small stainless stell vats as well as oak. It is aged for approx. three years on lees and is a stunning representation of the purity of fruit coming out of the Marne.
- Francis Orban – L’Orbane
This family-owned house is located about 15km west of Epernay in the heart of the Vallee de la Marne, Francis focuses on Meunier with 90% of his vineyard being meunier. His flagship cuvee is the Orbane: 100% meunier from a single vintage fermented in oak and then aged on lees for 5 years. It is a wine with great tension, and the aromas of mature mild tobacco, dried apricots and cashews. Francis Orban recommends drinking it over the next 10 to 15 years, so proof that Meunier can age gracefully.
- Jose Michel Special Club vintage
Located in Moussy the house of Michel is a known for their exquisite work on meunier. According to Antonin Michel, the new generation of the house, his grandfather fought for decades so that the varietal would not be seen as the “villain petit canard” – the ugly duckling of the region. One major victory was when their 100% meunier wine was accepted into the Special Club selection, and exclusive group of 28 growers whose wines are submitted to rigorous selection criteria and blind tastings. Michel was the first grower to have a meunier focused champagne selected for this ‘Holy Grail’ which is seen a true accolade and testament to excellence.
According to Richard Juhlin “The two great exceptions that prove the rule about the maturing potential of Pinot Meunier are Krug and José Michel.”
When Antonin speaks of the wines made by his grandfather in the 50s, 60s and 70s, he evoques enoki, truffles and oyster shell bringing great freshness still after decades in the cellar.
A great wine to pick up is the Special Club which is only made in the best years and is a blend of 50% Meunier and 50% Chardonnay.
- Apollonis 2008 Monodie
Based in Festigny, Michel Loriot is a producer to watch. For those who are sceptical in regards to the ageing potential of meunier need to try his Monodie cuvee from 2008. This is 100% Meunier and is aged for at least 10 years in the cellars. Michel is a fervent believer that vines and wines are living breathing organisms that respond well to micro-vibrations. He therefore plays classical music to the vines and in his cellars. Don’t believe it makes a difference? Taste it and see. I guarantee that you will be impressed. 2008 vintage is still available on the market but is sold out at the domain, meaning that they have moved onto the next vintage: 2010.
- Gosset Grand Blanc de Meunier
Released in 2018 with only 5,000 bottles, Gosset’s 100% meunier cuvee is a big moment for the grape varietal being recognised as something worthy to be enjoyed alone. The first and only release to date was made mostly from the 2007 vintage with 10% from the 2006 vintage which gave it a generous 9 years ageing on lees in the Gosset cellars. It is extra brut with 3.5g dosage. With a full straw hue, the spicy dark berries, dark fruit cake and fruit mince spice of meunier meet the roast nuts and buttered toast of a decade of age.' 93 points, Tyson Stelzer