A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Menu Pineau (Arbois/Orbois) - Loire Valley, France

Menu Pineau was not a grape that I intentionally set out to try.  When I bought the bottle that I'll be reviewing below, I thought that it was made mostly from the Romorantin grape with a dash of something called Orbois tossed in for good measure.  It's a French wine that is bottled as a vin de table, which means that the producer is not allowed to mention any grape names, vintage information or regional information on the front or the back labels, so all I had to go on was the store owner's word.  When I got home later and looked the wine up online, the producer's website indicated that the grape mixture was actually the reverse of what the shop owner had told me (about 80% Menu Pineau and 20% Romorantin)*.  This actually turned out to be a great thing for me, since I had a few other examples of Romorantin to write about and had nothing from the Menu Pineau grape, so the result of the happy accident is today's post.

Menu Pineau is a very old grape that has been cultivated in the Loire Valley since at least the 16th Century, where it was first mentioned in print by François Rabelais.  When I went to tag today's entry, I was surprised to see that I already had an Arbois tag, since I didn't remember ever writing about this grape before, but it turns out that I have previously used the Arbois tag to refer to the Arbois sub-region of the Jura and not to the grape.  The two names are apparently completely unrelated, as Menu Pineau has not ever been cultivated in the Jura, according to Robinson & Co. in Wine Grapes.  They say that the Arbois/Orbois name is a corruption of the name Herbois, which is what the grape was called in the Loir-et-Cher region where it is most widely grown.  In the local dialect, Herbois was spelled/pronounced Orboé or Orboué, which ultimately became Orbois and then Arbois.  It is officially known as Orbois in France, as Arbois Blanc in the VIVC database, and as Menu Pineau in Wine Grapes.

The Menu Pineau name may lead you to believe that it is somehow related to Pinot Noir or to the Pinot family of grapes, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  It was named Menu Pineau to differentiate it from Gros Pineau, which is another name for Chenin Blanc, which is widely grown in many of the same areas as Menu Pineau.  Gros means large and menu means small, while Pineau (or Pineau de la Loire) has just historically been one of Chenin Blanc's many names.  Menu Pineau does seem to have a parent/offspring relationship with Gouais Blanc, the other half of the famous Pinot x Gouais duo (see my post on Romorantin for more details) that was responsible for so many of the grapes we enjoy today.  This means that Menu Pineau is a half-sibling of all the grapes from that crossing, but more amazingly, is also at least a half sibling of at least 78 other grapes.  This study (in French...the link is to the download page, which will allow you to DL the entire bulletin...the relevant paper is the first one in the bulletin) shows that Gouais Blanc shares 50% of its DNA markers with these 78 grapes, meaning that it is likely one of the parents for nearly all of them.  The list includes such luminaries as Riesling, FurmintJacquèreFrâncuşă,  Grolleau, Colombard, Folle Blanche, and Muscadelle, among many others.

Menu Pineau is authorized for use in a handful of AOC wines in the northern Loire Valley, but it is being phased out of at least one major one.  As of 2016, Menu Pineau will be forbidden in AOC wines from Touraine (as will all other white grapes not named Sauvignon...only Sauvignon Gris and Sauvignon Blanc will be permitted).  Sauvignon Blanc has actually supplanted Menu Pineau in most of the areas in which the grape was once widely cultivated, as plantings in France have fallen from almost 1500 hectares in 1968 to fewer than 300 hectares in 2004.  It is generally faulted for having low acidity, and when it shows up, it typically shows up as a minor blending component to cut the acid of its more popular running-mates Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.  There are a handful of producers making varietal wines from the grape, but I haven't been able to track any of them down.

I was able to pick up the 2007 Julien Courtois "Originel" bottling, which, as mentioned above, is about 80% Menu Pineau and 20% Romorantin.  This wine is bottled as a vin de table, so the vintage information is buried in a lot number on the back of the bottle (and I may be misinterpreting it), while the grape breakdown comes from the producer's website.  I picked this bottle up from my friends at the Wine Bottega for around $35.  In the glass the wine was a medium golden bronze color and was a little bit hazy.  The nose was intense with apple cider, peach and honeysuckle aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of apple cider and fresh cut green apples along with apricot, honey and lemony citrus.  The acidity was surprisingly sharp here and was a bit too much to handle at room temperature.  Cellar temp or just slightly colder was the way to go, as the flavors became very muted at fridge temp.  I really liked the balance between the fresh fruits and the slight oxidation in the wine and found the wine enjoyable on the whole.  It is a bit pricey, but I don't think it's overpriced for what you get.  It's actually a great Fall wine that would probably provide a lot of interesting pairings at the Thanksgiving table, if you're looking for a nice oddball wine to serve your guests.

*I want to be clear that I think it's amazing how much most wine shop workers know and remember about their stock off the top of their heads, especially considering the crazy kinds of questions I sometimes throw at them.  Matt at the Wine Bottega is an unbelievable fount of knowledge and this anecdote isn't intended to cast any aspersions on him or his store.  The whole crew at the Bottega are insanely knowledgeable and just all around good people.  The anecdote is merely to explain a happy accident that resulted in me getting something more interesting than I bargained for (I had a similar experience with the Kanzler grape as well).  Not all mistakes are bad things...think about the discovery of penicillin or Champagne or possibly even wine itself for examples of mistakes or accidental discoveries leading to wonderful new things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're still looking for a 100% Menu Pineau, consider "Haut Plessis" from Domaine Lunotte (Christophe Foucher), which I think is only available through Chambers Street Wines. It is truly unique and delicious: