Tuesday, April 10, 2018

2015 Darting Pinot Meunier: A German Delight

It's a grape used in a very popular type of wine but many consumers probably don't realize it is used in that wine. When consumers think about Champagne, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir immediately come to mind. However, far fewer people realize that Champagne may commonly include Pinot Meunier as well. Though Pinot Meunier often constitutes only a small percentage in the blend, there are some Champagnes where it actually is the most dominant grape. It is also rare to find Pinot Meunier standing on its own in a still wine, but I think that needs to change.

At the wine store where I work, the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, the Brack Mountain Fable Pinot Meunier (Russian River Valley) sells extremely well. It is a delicious wine, which the staff often recommends, and the customers love it. After taking a chance on a bottle, customers often return, wanting to buy more. Consumers simply need to be educated about Pinot Meunier, and be willing to take a chance on it. Once they do, they will likely enjoy it.

The history of Pinot Meunier extends at least as far back as the 16th century, and its name "Meunier" derives from the French word for "miller," a person who grinds grain into flour. It received this name as the underside of the leaves of the vine commonly have a layer of white hairs, which is thought to resemble a dusting of flour. The grape is also sometimes known as Müllerrebe, Müller-Traube and Schwarzriesling. You'll find Pinot Meunier planted in France, Germany, California, Oregon, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and other regions. However, it is still difficult to find still wines made from Pinot Meunier at most local wine shops.

On my recent food exploration of West Concord, I stopped by West Concord Wine & Spirits, to check out their selection, and found a German Pinot Meunier. Without knowing anything else about it, I bought a bottle, intrigued as it was the first time I had found such a wine from Germany.

In Germany, there are approximately 5,800 acres of Pinot Meunier (based on figures from 2008), constituting about 5% of the total vineyard acreage of the country. Most of the plantings, about 4300 across, are found in the region of Württemberg. The grape is also found in Baden (657 acres), Pfalz (398 acres), Franken (222 acres), and Rheinhessen (200 acres).

The 2015 Darting Winery Pinot Meunier ($21.99) is produced from a winery with roots extending back to 1780, but the winery didn't start selling wine under their own label until 1989. Located primarily in the Bad-Dürkheim area, their winemaker is Helmut Darting, who conducts minimal-intervention winemaking. For example, he uses only natural yeasts and ferments slowly under cold temperatures. They also tend to use large oak casks for aging, locally sourced and made. The winery currently has about 25 hectares of vineyards, with an annual production of about 21,000 cases.

This is a Terry Thiese wine, and had this to say about the winery, "Darting remains my icon of the perfect “commercial” winery, offering charming easygoing wines at excellent prices, bearing slightly fuddy-duddy labels, and hardly registering on the edgy stream, but that’s fine by me. The wines delight, over-deliver and are incredibly useful, and these things matter too—and matter more." As for the Pinot Meunier, Terry also said, "The wine speaks well for itself. It tastes very good! People will like it. We need to get past a really incoherent assumption that if the place or the label is unheard-of, the wine will taste weird. That’s only seldom true and it isn’t true here."

The 2015 Darting Winery Pinot Meunier is made from 100% Pinot Meunier, from the Pfalz region, and has a 13.5% ABV. It has a light red color, with a touch of sediment, and a mild, pleasing aroma of red fruit and spice. It is a light-bodied wine, subtle and elegant in its presentation, with delicious flavors of cherry and cranberry, a mild spicy backbone and a hint of earthiness. Nice acidity, a lingering finish, and interesting. Overall, it was delicious and paired perfectly with a dinner of lamb lollipops. We easily finished the bottle and I wish I'd had another. Highly recommended.

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