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Meunier, Champagne’s Other Grape

by Eunice Fried

Nov 1, 2017
November 2017

MEUNIER IS CHAMPAGNE’S other grape, the one we rarely hear about. And yet it is an integral part of the region’s famed sparkling wines. Champagne can be made from three grapes — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier — either totally from one grape or a combination of two or three. But while wine fans are acquainted with the light-skinned Chardonnay and dark-skinned Pinot Noir, not many realize dark-skinned Meunier is every bit as important to Champagne. In fact, there is more Meunier planted in Champagne than Chardonnay.

And for good reason. Meunier buds later and ripens earlier than Champagne’s other grapes, an asset in this cool, most northern of French wine regions. And Meunier can add fruit flavors, richness and suppleness to young Champagne. Yet while many winemakers in the region use Meunier in their blends, particularly non-vintage Champagnes, until recently few made Champagne primarily or completely of Meunier. “It doesn’t age well,” some vintners say. “It isn’t as fine as the other grapes,” say others.

Really? I recently had the opportunity to taste a number of wines made partly or completely of Meunier; and while one tasting cannot tell me how long Meunier-based wines will last, at the moment I would welcome a glass of any of them.

Among them, Champagne Roger Barnier’s Cuvée Exquise, a blend of all three grapes, presents a smoky breadiness in the nose and is full, round and playful.

Champagne Eric Taillet’s Le Bois de Binson, on the other hand, is made 100 percent of Meunier, and I found it lovely with berry flavors and flirty bubbles.

Champagne R-C Lemaire Select Réserve, also 100 percent Meunier, is assertive with a hint of biscuit in the aroma. It has refreshing upfront fruit and pleasant freshness, with enough body to serve not only as an aperitif but also to accompany parts of a meal.

With an inviting, slightly smoky aroma, Champagne A & J Demiere Inno’Sens presents a delicious, lively, assertive taste and a long finish. A blend of one third of each grape, it gives Meunier its rightful place among equals.

Prices range widely, $26–75.


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