All I knew about Pinot Meunier prior to my visit to Champagne during IWINETC 2015 (International Wine Tourism Conference) was that it was one of the three grape varietals used in making Champagne, the other two being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. All the Blanc de Noirs (champagnes made exclusively from dark-skinned grapes) that I had tasted earlier were made from Pinot Noir. In fact I was not aware of a single producer who sold 100% Pinot Meunier as a varietal.
I often wondered why Pinot Meunier was treated as the unattractive country cousin of Pinot Noir even though it accounts for 1/3rd of all the grapes planted in Champagne. It is rumoured that the reason why this grape fell out of grace was when a big champagne house like Möet & Chandon decided not to use it in their vines. There is also a bias against this varietal that it does not age well, being low in tannins. Hence it is not taken seriously and is used more for making champagnes which are intended to be consumed young. But if this was so then why a prestigious house like Krug would be using it so generously in its blends.
You can imagine my surprise when on a visit to Champagne Dom Caudron, located in a small village called Passey-Grigny to the west of Epernay in the Marne Valley, I found not one but four cuvées made entirely with Pinot Meunier. I was told that the terroir of this region was perfectly suited to growing this varietal which has been called the “workhorse” grape of champagne providing roundness, suppleness and a bouquet of aromatic and fruity aromas to the bubbly even though it is a bit uninteresting on its own due to its rustic nature. It buds late and ripens early making it is less susceptible to disease. Since it has high acidity it gives a certain crispness and brightness to champagne.
It is due the efforts of vignerons of co-operatives like Dom Caudron that the importance of Pinot Meunier is now being being acknowledged. The movement was founded in 1929 by the village priest Aimé Caudron, an iconic vine growing figure in Passy-Grigny who encouraged the growers to bring together their expertise to create and sell their own champagne. The vineyards which originally covered 12 hectares are now spread over 130 hectares on the Marne Valley’s hillsides with more than 70 vine growers forming a part of the co-operative. Their aim now is to conquer international markets.
Dom Caudron uses the humble Pinot Meunier in different combinations in its range of champagnes, thereby paying tribute to this varietal. Ranging from simple to complex the champagnes are unusual, distinctive and delicious infused with wonderful herbal and smooth berry aromas and have a natural smokiness which goes rather well with spicy and tangy flavours. The cuvées include:
Prédiction Brut, made entirely of Meunier aged two years on lees and very expressive of the Passy-Grigny terroir.
Fascinante Rosé Brut made in a very interesting vinification style. 80% Meunier is vinified into white wine. 10% Meunier vinified into red wine and 10% Chardonnay aged in oak barrels. All combined and aged for 2 years on less. End product is a gourmet rosé with finesse and complexity.
Epicurienne Brut a prestigious cuvée made from Meunier from vines over 50 years old
Cornalyne: Brut a combination where 50% of Meunier is aged in oak barrels giving this Blanc de Noirs a sophistication and complexity.
Sublimité 2007 Brut this delicious and refined vintage champagne combines Meunier (50%) with barrel aged Chardonnay (50%) from three renowned chardonnay wines (Chassagne Montrachet) and aged 7 years on lees. 2007 was a very prestigious year.
Since each cuvee has its own combination and interpretation, it is not surprising that they have such unusual names. It is indeed a wonderful expression of Meunier and I was very fortunate to get a chance to taste these distinctive wines and enjoy the warm hospitality of Dom Caudron in Passey-Gringy. I would suggest that anyone visiting Champagne should include a visit to Dom Caudron in their itinerary.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
Champagne Dom Caudron
10 rue Jean York
51700 Passy-Gringy France
Tel +33 326 52 45 17
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