Pinot Meunier, or Meunier, may be related to Pinot Noir but this is unproven. The leaf looks very different and far more indented. The leaves are also downy on the underside, giving them the floury appearance from which the vine takes its name: Meunier means ‘miller’, and many of the the vine’s other synonyms – Farineux or Noirin Enfariné, or Müllerebe (see here) or Müller-Traube in Germany, right down to Dusty Miller in England or Miller’s Burgundy in Australia – derive from the same characteristic. But it is possible to find canes bearing completely hairless leaves.

Pinot Meunier leaf looks very different, Blanc, Noir

It is best known as a blending partner for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Champagne, and it is popular with growers there because it buds late and ripens early. Both of these are useful attributes in chilly Champagne, and it is found in the cooler, more frost-prone parts, especially in the Vallée de la Marne, where neither Chardonnay nor Pinot Noir would be a safe bet. It is useful in the blend because it matures much faster than the other two wines and provides softness, fatness and appealingly round fruit at an early age: ideal for wines intended to be sold and drunk young.

Generally it is not thought to age well, and is not regarded as having as much finesse or quality as the other two grapes. As a result most producers are somewhat shy of talking about the amount of Meunier they include in their blends. The exception is Krug, which uses a fair proportion (though still much less than either of the other grapes) in its very long-lived Champagne.

In the 19th century it was the great standby of vineyards all over the north, from the Paris basin as far east as Lorraine – regions where no vineyards exist now. It is still occasionally found in the Loire and makes a pleasant smoky pale pink Vin Gris near Orléans, but there is much more in Germany, where it grows in Württemberg, Baden, the Pfalz and Franken under the names of either Müllerebe, Müller-Traube or Schwarzriesling. In Württemberg it is used for the local pink speciality, Schillerwein; it also makes white sparkling and still red in Germany. The colour is fairly light – lighter than that of Pinot Noir – and the wine is often slightly higher in acidity and smoky in taste. In Germany there is a local variant, called Samtrot, found in Württemberg.

There is some in Austria and in German-speaking cantons of Switzerland. It has been cultivated on a small scale for many years in Australia. Some bright, aromatic reds which can sometimes age well are made and it is also used in Champagne-style fizz. New Zealand and Oregon have small plantings. Best producers: (Australia) Best’s, Seppelt, Taltarni; (Canada) Tinhorn Creek; (England) Nyetimber; (France) Billecart-Salmon, Blin, Charles Heidsieck, Alfred Gratien, Krug, Laurent Perrier; (USA) S Anderson, Roederer Estate, Schramsberg.

Italian name for Pinot Gris. Pinot Grigio is often more highly regarded than Pinot Bianco (see above) in Italy, though the quality of the wine is at much the same level. It grows in the northeast of the country, and is picked for its acidity rather than for the plump richness that distinguishes the variety in Alsace, but the best do have a light coppery tinge and some decent nutty weight. But in general Italian wines from this grape are accordingly some of the lightest and crispest around, with delicate spice. If vineyard yields are too high, as they frequently are, this delicacy turns to blandness. This doesn’t stop Pinot Grigio being archetypal Italian restaurant wine, and some of it is really very pleasant, but it could explain why, with a little added sugar, it has been such a runaway success in the lower echelons of the export markets. New World countries generally use the title Pinot Gris. When you find a wine labelled Pinot Grigio from, for instance, Australia or New Zealand, it is usually in a lighter, fresh, not quite dry style.


It’s hard to think of a region where Pinot Blanc is regarded as a star grape, though Italy’s Franciacorta comes pretty close. Pinot is widely enough grown, but seldom plays the leading role. It does well in northern Italy generally, making very nice bright, dry, creamy whites in the Alto Adige, and in Alsace, where, although the label on the bottle won’t even mention its name, much of the best Crémant d’Alsace fizz is based on Pinot Blanc. But otherwise it is one of the wine world’s genuine Cinderellas, and if there’s going to be a ball to attend, Pinot Blanc’s invitation hasn’t arrived yet.

Yet it’s got a fairly decent family tree. It’s a mutation of Pinot Gris, which is itself a form of Pinot Noir, and its flavour closely resembles a mild Chardonnay, especially in northern Italy where the Chardonnay is often in any case light, and Pinot Blanc just tastes like an even lighter version. In Germany’s Baden, Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen regions it is called Weissburgunder and often barrique-aged and in Austria’s Burgenland it makes excellent sweet botrytized wines. In Eastern Europe it is widely grown though with no great distinction.
So we’re left with Alsace. But even here it plays at best fifth fiddle to Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris, and is often blended with Auxerrois – again, the two grapes look very similar. The ampelographer Galet calls the more productive Alsace version of the vine Gros Pinot Blanc, to distinguish it from other Pinot Blancs.

The New World has not taken to Pinot Blanc in any great way, and clearly prefers the greater glamour of Chardonnay. California has some, though much of what was thought to be Pinot Blanc there turned out to be Melon de Bourgogne, better known as Muscadet. Californian views about how Pinot Blanc should taste vary, so that some wines are as fat as Chardonnay while others are lighter and less assertive. Oregon and Canada have shown a bit more idea of what to do with it, and British Columbia has definitely shown considerable promise.
So, to be honest, it’s difficult to know how good Pinot Blanc could be. In a way its very lack of assertiveness, its mild but bright drinkability in a world awash with Chardonnay, is actually one of its most important characteristics.

Pinot Blanc in Alsace has a touch of spice to its round, creamy fruit, but not too much. It is not assertively spicy, or assertively aromatic. In Italy it becomes lighter and more minerally, sometimes with a reasonable pear and apple freshness. In Germany it takes submissively to new oak and makes a fair stab at a Chardonnay style with decent acidity and just enough body to cope with the wood.