After touring the beautiful Willamette Valley in Oregon, I visited the Eyrie Vineyards tasting room in McMinnville on my birthday last August. Eyrie’s founder, David Lett, was known for bringing Pinot Noir to Oregon over 50 years ago and for bringing Pinot Gris to the United States. During my trip to the Willamette Valley last summer, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the white wines; the Pinots Gris, Pinot Blanc, and even some Chardonnays. I expected to enjoy the Pinot Noir but was pleasantly surprised to find yet another region where the white wines do not get as much attention, and I could be pleasantly surprised by them.
Despite my newfound love of Oregon whites, which I’m sure I’ll talk about more later, I enjoyed almost everything I tasted at Eyrie. In fact, I enjoyed a lot of wine on my birthday and spent a bit more money than I planned. Nevertheless, I was thrilled several months later when the weather here in DC was cool enough for Eyrie to ship me what I had ordered.
Eyrie’s wines have been made in the non-interventionist style of “natural” wine long before it was the trend. According to their website, this means that fermentation proceeds naturally using traditional techniques such as “native yeast fermentations in reds, skin contact on whites, and full natural malolactic to promote the most complex expression of our varieties.” There is no fining and minimal filtration. The wines are all vegan so perfect for one of my first posts here.
My husband Paul and I decided to taste the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier on a rainy Saturday evening. My visit to Eyrie was the first time I’d tasted Pinot Meunier other than as part of a sparkling wine blend. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier is one of the three common grapes used in champagne. According to my research, although it has long been overshadowed by the other two grapes, champagne wine producers have in recent years begun to highlight Pinot Meunier.
It remains difficult to find examples of the grape as a still red wine. I asked for a taste of one at a wine bar in Sonoma and the waiter stuck around to see my reaction and to tell me about the grape because no one ever orders it. It was hidden on a list of about 20 Pinot Noirs so I can imagine how it got overlooked there, but I rarely see it on wine lists anywhere.
Because Pinot Meunier is considered a light-bodied red like Pinot Noir, we thought tasting them together and comparing them would be a good idea. We ordered Middle Eastern take-out including falafel, baba ganoush, vegetarian grape leaves, and of course I had some hummus on hand to round out the meal. I enjoy light bodied reds with Middle Eastern foods. They have spice but are not as intense as the spicy foods I would pair with a sweet wine. A fuller-bodied red might be appropriate with a meal including red meat and I might prefer a white if tabouli was on the table, but these wines proved to be an appropriate match for what we had.
Both the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier were from 2013. We started with the Pinot Noir and I was genuinely surprised by how pale it was, I didn’t remember that from the tasting. There was strawberry on the nose, and Paul smelled a little red licorice. It was very light-bodied, smooth, with hints of tart cherry and cranberry, medium acid. Paul felt that this was a wine that could be sipped alone on a warm day, I preferred with food.
The Pinot Meunier was a bit more complex (and to be fair, it was more expensive). Although Pinot Meunier tends to be lighter in color than Pinot Noir, we thought this one was just a bit darker in color and a little more intense on the nose. We smelled cherry on the nose, along with a bit of earthiness. There was more acid and I tasted just a hint of tannins, which I did not get on the Pinot Noir. Paul tasted plum.
Pinot Noir is a safe bet pairing with many kinds of food, but I have always enjoyed it especially with hummus and other mildly spiced Middle Eastern or Greek foods. As a similar light bodied red, the Pinot Meunier was also a good match but I don’t expect to have many more opportunities to enjoy this grape varietal.