Meunier, the other grape of Champagne – only good for producers who want high yields or to make fast maturing non-vintage blends. It is nowhere near as bad as that.
Gratien, clearly a quality Champagne house, use it in the very long lived vintage blend. They are not alone. Krug, the luxury brand for luxury drinkers, use it in both their non-vintage blend and their vintage cuvée. Clearly not so bad then.
However, it is not in Champagne that Meunier reaches its zenith of quality, but rather in England, in my home wine region of Hampshire.
Hampshire sparklers are made with the full range of Champagne varietals. The wines that have surprised me most with their quality are those containing a high proportion of Meunier.
In the gentle hills of Hampshire this workhorse from Champagne produces delicately fruity, divine wines of pronounced elegance and refinement. They are lovely, scintillating wines that capture, perhaps more than wines from any other varietal, the true beauty that Hampshire sparklers can attain.
Hambledon, the oldest commercial vineyard in England, have chosen Meunier as the sole constituent of their new flagship prestige wine: Première Cuvée Dosage Zéro Rosé. Based almost entirely on the excellent 2015 vintage this promises to be an exciting wine. Even the packaging got plenty of attention at Elitistreview Towers:
Hambledon’s address is an excellent source of quality Hampshire fizz – their whole range is nothing less than fine. Their standard prestige wine, Première Cuvée, is totally brilliant and, until I ran out last week, was the house fizz at Elitistreview Towers.
That is a mostly Chardonnay based blend, with lower dosage (the little bit of sugar put into the wine when the wine is disgorged and the final cork is put in) than with most Hampshire sparklers. It is a nervy, racy, edgy wine of great distinction and class. A splendidly fine wine that is considerably cheaper than this, but has less of a rarity value.
With the Première Cuvée Dosage Zéro Rosé, Hambledon Vineyard have gone the whole way and used zero dosage. There is no extra sugar to soften the experience of the wine – it is Fizz with nothing to hide its characteristics.
Hambledon made 3,500 bottles of Première Cuvée Dosage Zéro Rosé in total, with 1,200 being released this year. Lining bottles up for release later in its life shows great faith in the wine’s qualities.
For a start, zero dosage Champagne is commonly considered best drunk soon after release. This does not bother me so much. Some readers may recall I had a bottle of Gimonnet Oenophile with zero dosage and it was clear to me it that it required and could easily manage a lot of bottle age.
Secondly, rosé is not considered suitable for long ageing. I had a bottle of Roederer Cristal 2005 recently, which is about as smart as smart rosé Champagnes get, and it was clearly over the hill. Again this is not necessarily a huge concern to me. Whether rosé can age ideas very much dependant on the structure of the wine, the degree of polyphenolic extraction and so on.
Thirdly, there is the Meunier-factor. Whilst it goes into some very long-lived wines, and makes beautiful wines in Hampshire, I have always had the feeling that those wines from Hampshire are not built for long ageing.
Hampshire Meunier make elegant little wines with delicate fruit and a light, pretty (in the best possible sense of the word) structure. Such wines rarely age well and are best drank soon after they are released. Whether Première Cuvée Dosage Zéro Rosé is structured like this I will discover shortly!
There is one final point I would like to make. You may have seen Meunier referred to as Pinot Meunier. A genetic analysis tells us that it is not actually part of the rich and broad Pinot family.
However, many grapes are colloquially known as Pinot [name] and, obviously, this name has quite a large historical precedent in sparkling wines. Consequently, I do not give a fly’s fart if you wish to call this a Pinot Meunier wine.
Look at that colour! It looks amazing in the bottle! However, now I have some in my glass, it has quite an orange rim – I did not expect it to look quite so mature. My chum Mac Forbes, Australia’s most charming man and maker of stylish Pinot, tells me not to worry as Meunier puts on colour very quickly. I would be very interested to see this in a few years’ time.
However, all we really care about colour is that in some way it looks nice. I think this looks like is going to be lovely, so let us speed onto the nose.
Ah! What a pleasing scent of raspberries and redcurrants! They are fulsomely giving in their ripeness and show good depth without ever losing the ethereal lightness and delicacy that Hampshire Meunier can deliver. This is essence of Hampshire as far as fruity aromas go.
But there is more! And it is good! This has clearly been grown on the prized chalk slopes of Hambledon (and Hampshire in general) as there is a creamy aroma that I associate with sparkling wines grown on chalk.
Again this really ‘Hampshire’ in character and, as Hampshire is clearly the best bit of the universe, we like this. There is a good, complex interplay with the fruit and chalk character!
I do like the nose! It is charming, distinctly vinous and speaks clearly of its origins. I want to get a mouthful of this sharpish!
The palate is quite wine-y, but it is extremely empyreal, shimmering with delicacy and allurement.
There is an edge of astringency to the palate, from the Meunier skins, but this is a polished hint to character of the wine, a comely foil to the bright, vivid fruit that is here.
That fruit characteristics are very vivacious and pulsing with energy. The lively acid helps that impression and the fruit is quite ripe enough to balance the acid without having an elevated dosage that most Hampshire sparklers require. Dosage Zéro, as we know!
It has a fine mousse, caressing your palate with innumerable tiny bubbles. This palate spa is enhanced by a pronounced, taut grip on the finish, again showing that it has been grown on limestone soils. Good fruit of Hampshire grown on felicitous vineyard sites.
This complex melange of flavours, fizzes and feelings are all in good harmony, this works very well with no dosage. It is a distinctly pleasing example of the Hampshire wine oeuvre.
I honestly cannot predict how this will age, the zero dosage will help it in that regard but the cepage is a bit more of a mystery; Meunier is a serious grape varietal in Hampshire so who knows? What is without doubt is that will titillate any lover of English fizz and will be a profound introduction to the wines of Hampshire (and England) for anyone who enjoys other sparkling wine.
It generated much enthusiastic discussion with the two wine professionals I tried this bottle with and I would be chuffed as ninepence to try it again. A real winner of a Hampshire sparkler – but then, so is the white Hambledon Première Cuvée, and that is a distinctly fine wine and markedly more affordable…