Pinot meunier is mainly a grape consigned to sparkling wine production, with still red wines relatively rare. But in Australia, though the output is modest, the grape has a meaningful place as a quality grape for red wine production (alongside sparkling wine), and with a noble history that stretches back to the 1830s.
Also known as
Schwarzriesling is the German name for pinot meunier, while it is also sometimes referred to as miller’s burgundy, especially in Australia. Meunier translates from the French as “miller” (with the leaves having a flour-like dusting on them), and presumably its similarity to pinot noir inspired the reference to pinot noir’s prime home of Burgundy.
What pinot meunier tastes like
Not too far removed from pinot noir, pinot meunier is very much in a red fruit spectrum, rarely crossing into darker fruits. It also typically will be less complex, with not as much in terms of the layers of flavours of pinot noir, but still plenty of character. Depending on winemaking, the tannins will generally be fine, while acidity is rarely anything other than fresh.
Vineyard & winemaking
While it shares some similarities with pinot noir, pinot meunier buds later and ripens a little earlier, meaning it has a shorter growing cycle. This makes it a little less prone to issues with flowering and fruit set, and it also generally has less issues at harvest as the weather changes. Typically, the grapes will also be picked with a little more acid that pinot noir, but tannin levels will be lower. Naturally, if using for sparkling wine, the grapes will be picked on the early side and they can contribute necessary acid in warmer seasons. Winemaking for table wine is not far removed from pinot noir.
Where is pinot meunier grown?
The second most planted grape variety in the Champagne region, pinot meunier does much of the heavy lifting, but it gets little of the spotlight. It was traditionally the glue that held the blends of chardonnay and pinot noir together, adding sugar without flavours developing too boldly, and reliably contributing acid to the wines. It is also a variety that can thrive in cooler sites that are marginal for both pinot noir and chardonnay. Meunier is not widely planted outside of region, but the success of Champagne ensures that it is one of the country’s most present varieties.
Pinot meunier around the world
Grown to a limited degree in Switzerland, pinot meunier perhaps receives the most attention outside of France in Württemberg, Germany. There it goes to making Schillerwein, a light and fresh rosé style, though some makers also produce dry red table wines.
Pinot meunier in Australia
Australia has a long connection to pinot meunier. James Busby certainly imported it in his collection of vine cuttings in the 1830s, but it is thought to have also been imported by Swiss settlers in Victoria’s Geelong region. The Suisse Vineyard, now known as Neuchatel, was planted in the 1840s, and it is thought cuttings from those original vines were taken by Henry Best to plant his Concongella Vineyard in 1868. It’s not possible to prove this either way, with the Suisse Vineyard’s vines now long gone, but Best’s Great Western is the home to the world’s oldest meunier vines. They make it into dry table wine, but most Australian meunier, like in France, is destined for sparkling wine, with much of the fruit coming from Tasmania, the King Valley, the Adelaide Hills and the Yarra Valley. Today, there is a renewed interest in the grape as a table wine, with makers like Murdoch Hill, Main & Cherry and La Violetta making straight varietal wines alongside Best’s and Seppelt.
Some of the best Australian pinot meunier
Some of the icons
Some of the new wave
Main & Cherry