How often do we hear that good things come in threes?
It’s an ancient concept, rooted in the Latin principle: “Omne Trium Perfectum” or “the rule of three.”
Confucius even mentioned this rule, way back in 500 BC!
The Three Grapes in Champagne
For sure, good things come in three in the Champagne region of northern France.
In fact, Champagne itself is spread across three of Frances political regions (or Departments): Aube, Marne and Aisne.
Champagne can also contain one or more of three grape varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
Today, most of the Champagne products that are exported are comprised mainly (or solely) of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with just a small amount of Meunier used for “blending.”
But the Meunier grape is a very important one in Champagne. It makes for some excellent varietals as well.
Meunier often called “Pinot Meunier” or “Schwarzriesling” is a black wine grape that is a mutation of the Pinot family of grape that was likely developed in the middle of the 16th century. This grape has a higher level of acidity than its cousin Pinot Noir and provides both a fruitiness and spiciness in Champagne blends. It has a relatively low level of tannin; however, and many winemakers believe that it cannot age.
The grape is extremely popular in the Champagne region (it’s the 2nd most widely grown varietal) because it’s hearty, and can withstand frost better than other grapes. It is particularly prolific in the Marne Valley in the Aisne Department, which is higher in elevation than most of Champagne.
The Meunier Institute
The Institute recently held a workshop and tasting at Corkbuzz in New York City, featuring eight of these producers and 24 of the Meunier-dominated Champagnes.
Champagne Produced From Meunier
Champagne made from Meunier is produced slightly differently than those dominated by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
First, many of the winemakers producing Meunier varietal Champagnes avoid malolactic fermentation. This is the process by which tart-tasting malic acid that is naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. According to Eric Taillet of Champagne Eric Taillet (who is also President of the Meunier Institute), avoiding the malolactic fermentation process allows the wine to age better.
In fact, all of the eight winemakers present at the event stated that both Meunier based Champagnes and varietal still wines can age perfectly well.
The lack of malolactic fermentation in the Meunier based Champagnes does cause them to be extremely crisp and citric in character. These are not the yeasty apple wines that one generally associates with Brut Champagne, but most of the 24 that we tasted were excellent with good characteristics for pairing with food.
While many of the small production wines we tasted at the seminar are available only in limited quantity in America, you can look for these producers on well-sourced wine lists at your favorite restaurants and in higher end package stores.
We are featuring one of the best products shown by each of the 8 producers below:
Champagne Andre Heucq Extra Brut Tradition (NV: $35.00)
This wine is light gold with coppery tones. The bottle we tasted was made with Meunier from the 2009 and 2010 harvest. On the nose there was a lot of apple with some yeasty tones. The mouse was light and there was a lot of apple and pear on the palate. This was a fruity Champagne with a slightly sweet finish.
Champagne Eric Taillet Bansionensi (NV: $28.00)
This is a light gold wine with a very fruity nose featuring apple and strawberry notes. There was a nice mouse, with a yeasty note up front and fresh vanilla and citrus notes on the finish. The wine was very bright and crisp across the palate.
Champagne Serveaux Fils Raisins Noirs (NV: $35.00
The wines from Serveaux Fils were very tart. This wine was a light gold color with coppery notes. On the nose was very light raisin. The mouse was very active and the wine itself was quite mineral. According to Jacque Serveaux the vineyard sits on limestone soil and this was quite present. There was citrus and a bit of pear on the finish.
Champagne Roger Barnier Cuvee Selection (2008: We could not find a price for this vintage but the Cuvee starts at $28.00).
This was one of our favorites from the tasting. Light gold in color the wine had a caramel apple nose. The wine had a nice mouse with peppery notes up front with a crisp yeasty mid-palate. On the finish, the wine had a good deal of minerality.
Champagne Meteyer Pere et Fils Carte Argent (NV: $33.00)
This was a very nice wine. Light gold in color the nose featured light raisin and apple notes. The wine was sweet up from followed with yeasty notes and a bit of black pepper. There was a long finish, and the wine was less tart than most of the other Meunier Champagnes that we tasted.
Champagne A&J Demiere Inno’Sens (NV: ?)This wine was made with one-third of each of the champagne varietals in an extra brut format. And while the wine is non-vintage it contains grapes going back to 2002. Light gold in color the wine has a yeasty clean nose. There is a good mouse and on the palate, the wine is crisp. Citrus and apple notes dominate up front, but on the finish, one finds pineapple and some caramel notes.
Champagne Moutardier Cuvee Millesime (2008: $35)
This wine is a best buy,with a ten-year-old vintage selling on the internet for this price. Golden in color the wine smelled of raisins with some older oxidation notes. On the palate, the wine has a super mouse with those lovely caramel-apple and black pepper notes. The wine had good acid which gave balance to the sweeter notes.
Champagne R-C Lemaire Select Reserve (NV: $40.00)
Light gold in color with some coppery notes, the wine had absolutely no nose. On the palate, the mouse was very light. There were some apple and peppery notes on the front, with light marine notes on the finish.
For more on Meunier and on Champagne in general visit the Meunier Institut at: www.meunier-institut.com
Thanks to John Dunham for this report.
*the graphic of three champagne grapes courtesy of Vrankenpommery.com