If you know even a little about Champagne, you most likely would name Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the leading blending grapes of Champagne. But there is another grape–a workhorse, so to speak–that is often overlooked. Pinot Meunier is a genetic mutant of Pinot Noir and accounts for about one-third of the plantings in the Champagne region, Lettie Teague informs readers in the WSJ.
Hardier and more reliable than its fickle Pinot Noir cousin, Pinot Meunier is “more tolerant of the spring frosts” common in the Marne Valley. Alexandra Liébart of Liébart-Regnier Champagnes, whose family specializes in Pinot Meunier Champagnes, describes Pinot Meunier as “fruity” with “generous flavor.”
The Marne Valley, or Vallée de la Marne, is the key Champagne sub-region for Pinot Meunier. Around 70% of its vineyards are planted to the grape; some top Pinot Meunier sites as well as several premier-cru-rated Pinot Meunier villages are located there. (In Champagne, villages, not vineyards, are rated.)
Top Champagne house Krug sources some Pinot Meunier for its flagship Brut Grande Cuvée from the Marne, and the grape may account for almost one-third of the blend. Krug winemaker Eric Lebel is a fan of the grape; he calls it “wrongly underrated” and values its “beautiful character and complexity.” But the Marne isn’t the only place in Champagne where Pinot Meunier is planted: It’s also found in the Côte des Bar region in the south and in the Montagne de Reims region in the north, where Jérôme Prévost of La Closerie makes sought-after old-vine Pinot Meuniers and Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet produces his Les Vignes de Vrigny Premier Cru Brut Pinot Meunier Champagne.
Read more here from Ms. Teague, who describes her suggested Champagnes made from Pinot Meunier as “delicious, distinctive and decidedly different—all the qualities required of a great New Year’s Champagne.”