Of the three main Champagne varietals, perhaps the least heralded has been Pinot Meunier. Often seen as adding fruitiness and freshness to the muscle of Pinot Noir and the finesse of Chardonnay, the grape has remained somewhat underrated, despite accounting for almost one third of plantings in the Champagne region, particularly in the cooler north-facing slopes of the Marne Valley.
Pinot Meunier is grown in several European wine regions, as well as further afield, such as North America, Australia and New Zealand and remains mainly used as a component in sparkling wine production. However, increasingly it's being touted as England's 'secret weapon', due to its suitability to our soils and climate. It buds and flowers late, while ripening early and consistently and also shows good resistance to frost and coulure (the failure of the flowers to develop into berries).
Exton Park's Pinot Meunier Rosé is the first English sparkling wine made entirely of Pinot Meunier. Launched at the London Wine Fair 2016, it immediately established itself as a new star of the burgeoning English wine scene and won an International Wine Challenge (IWC) Gold Medal the same year. French winemaker Corinne Seely is determined to express the uniqueness of English terroir in all her wines, the Pinot Meunier a shining example of her approach. "As a winemaker, I appreciate the importance of terroir and as a French winemaker, I find English terroir fascinating to express. Pinot Meunier from an English chalk terroir expresses something different from anywhere else."
Based on the excellent 2014 vintage and with only 12 months lees ageing to retain freshness and delicacy, the result is a pale salmon pink-coloured rosé, that in Corinne's words "reminds you of an English garden when you smell it." The nose is floral and fruity with delicate notes of red fruits, fine herbs and honeysuckle, while the crisp, dry palate (only 6.5g/l residual sugar) sings of wild strawberries with touches of stone fruit, dry biscuit and ginger spice plus a refreshingly tangy hint of citrus.
There's a limited supply of bottles left, so be quick if you want to buy one in time for Valentine's Day! A few last bottles are available from the winery itself, or from the following stockists (RRP £40 per 75ml bottle) - Friarwood Fine Wines, Corks Out, Butler's Wine Cellar and Wine Utopia.