Late summer, early fall (aka “the shoulder season”) is a perfect time to try new wine varietals. While the hot summer months can lull us into a strict diet of rose and Sancerre and the colder months beg for bigger reds to pair with our winter comfort foods, the shoulder season lends itself to virtually anything. If you have been wanting to expand your wine horizons and try new varietals, now is the time to do so.
I recently took my own advice and tried a varietal that I have only had a handful of times—Pinot Meunier. If you haven’t heard of this varietal—a cousin to Pinot Noir—don’t fret. Not many people have. Pinot Meunier can taste very similar to Pinot Noir with classic strawberries on the nose, medium body and earthiness, however it typically has higher acid levels—despite having similar sugar and alcohol levels.
Pinot Meunier also enjoys the same cool microclimates that Pinot Noir does, thriving in the fog and limited sunshine that make areas like Burgundy and Carneros so ideal. If done right, Pinot Meunier has layers of bright red fruits, spice and an earthy elegance, yet with more savory notes than Pinot Noir.
Pinot Meunier reminds me a bit of Gamay in that it is often overlooked by consumers (most wine lovers are probably not even aware of the varietal) yet sommeliers are well aware of it and its versatility with food. While it has plenty of fruit—strawberries, raspberries, cranberries—it also has some mushroom notes that can work well with rustic chicken dishes and richer pasta dishes.
Pairs with many foods
I recently tried the Bouchaine Pinot Meunier from Carneros at a restaurant in New York with “Gnocchi di Semolino alla Romana”—a classic, simple Gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream sauce dish—and it paired beautifully. While Pinot Meunier does not have quite the tannins that Pinot Noir does, it has just as much, if not more acidity, making it a great choice for higher fat content dishes. If you like your reds with plenty of acidity but do not always yearn for a Cabernet of Bordeaux style wine, try Pinot Meunier and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Bouchaine’s 100-acre estate vineyard lies on the southern border of Napa Valley’s Carneros district, overlooking the San Francisco Bay with the city visible in the distance on clear days. Fog, wind, and the cold night time temperatures of this unique geographical area lend a distinctive regional identity to this Pinot Meunier.
According to Bouchaine, The 2019 growing season was a “Goldilocks” vintage—not too cold, not too hot. Late rains in May and some storms threatened the vines, however sunshine eventually won that battle resulting in a very consistent growing season.
Bright red fruits—strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and even pomegranate—waft out of the glass, leading to more earthy and savory notes of mushrooms, roasted meats and leather. Light tannins and ample acidity on the palate result in a very approachable wine that can pair with many foods. The Bouchaine Pinot Meunier—with it’s bright fruit and ample acidity—will go very nicely with a rich pasta dish (cream sauce over red sauce) or a classic French Roast Chicken Jus.