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Marsannay: Burg’s Bargain Bin

I am a collector and regular drinker of red Burgundy but I review the wines infrequently. Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines are just too precious to simply open and taste so I drink them only in the context of a fine meal or with special friends. In addition, there are a number of reviewers more adept than I with a highly respected voice about Burgundy such as Allen Meadows of the Burghound.

In the last decade, and particularly since 2005, the price of fine Burgundy has skyrocketed. This trend has been fueled by a number of factors including the interest among deep-pocketed collectors in Burgundy (there are almost 400 billionaires in the United States), the extremely limited quantities of the top wines, the weak American dollar, and the names such as DRC, Dujac, Leroy and Rousseau taking on a luxury goods mantra. Red Burgundy has become the Cartier of the wine world and consumers have equated quality with desirability rather than the opposite. New York Wine importer, Neal Rosenthal, laments the current market for Burgundy. “The real tragedy of Burgundy was that a few prima donna domaines, most famously Romanee-Conti, had become so outlandishly expensive that the prices had become skewed. There was great irony there because in the past Burgundies were the best value wines on the market. They had more character, more integrity, and more flesh. There were $20 Burgs that iced everything else at the same price. They were the most underrated cheap wines on planet earth.”

Burgundy is a vinous minefield with many wines simply not that great relative to price. The interested wine drinker must devote serious study to Burgundy, learning about vintages, producers, villages, and vineyards. The challenge then becomes locating the wine you want at a price you want to pay. The often-repeated joke applies here: “Fine Burgundy is wonderful if you can get someone else to pay for it.” How can the ordinary wine drinker find pleasure in the daunting world of red Burgundy?

One approach is to look for the minor bottlings of the top wineries. Another tack is to seek out the best growers in the lesser known, less prestigious villages such as Marsannay-la-Côte. Marsannay crowns the Côte de Nuits, sitting above Gevrey Chambertain and just above Fixin, just south of Dijon. It has become known as the “Gateway to Burgundy.” Marsannay constantly struggles against urbanization from the populace in Dijon. Signs proclaiming, “Trop c’est Trop!” meaning, “Too Much is Too Much!” can be seen dotting the village.

Once designated as Bourgogne, Marsannay was elevated in 1987 to its current village appellation contrôlée (AC) classification. It has struggled to escape its tawdry image dating to the first part of the nineteenth century when it supplied oceans of cheap Gamay Noir and rosé to the residents of nearby Dijon. Marsannay has 480 acres of vineyards, no premier crus, with several notable lieux-dits (named vineyards or climats) such as Les Champs-Perdix, Les Champs-Salomon, Le Clos de Jeu, Le Clos-du-Roi, Les Longeroies, Saint-Jacques, and Les Vaudenelles. There is a high percentage of old vines and many young, dedicated winegrowers, resulting in many quality value-priced wines. The terroir is not as highly regarded as say Gevrey Chambertain, but if you find a wine from a top grower in a good vintage, the result can be immensely satisfying.

The commune is entitled to produce Marsannay rouge, Marsannay blanc, which usually made in a lean, Chablis style, and Marsannay rosé from Pinot Noir. Although northern in location, Marsannay is a mediumbodied sinewy wine. It is not as gutsy as it’s neighbor Fixin and does not display the finesse of Gevrey Chambertain. The wines are made for early enjoyment, although they can perform beautifully for at least five years after release.

Bruno Clair is the most well-known Marsannay producer, but Domaine Sylvain Pataille, established in 2001, has brought glitter to the village. Pataille was a vineyard consultant for Roumier and Groffier before settling in his hometown. He is fanatical about meticulous farming, committed to biodynamic farming and even planted one of his vineyards from seed instead of cuttings or clones. Unfortunately, the one bottle of 2005 Sylvian Pataille Marsannay Clos du Roy I purchased was badly corked and I could not review it.

I recently sampled a number of Marsannay wines from the outstanding 2005 and respectable 2006 and 2007 vintages. The wines of Bruno Clair clearly stood above the crowd. The lineup of wines was solid, although not exceptional, but delivered the Burgundy experience at an affordable price. The 2005 vintage wines were clearly superior. In some cases, the Marsannay wines offered more interest and personality that many California Pinot Noirs in the same $20 to $25 price range. However, some wines had foreboding tannins and acidity which needed food to mitigate. The wines do not provide the mid-palate fruit intensity and persistence on the finish of higher cru Burgundy wines. All things considered, the wines deserve a look if you are seeking Burgundy at a sensible price. The name, Marsannay, is easy to pronounce, the wines are widely available, and the tariff is easy to swallow. Prices range from $15 to $58 (for Denis Mortet Marsannay Les Longeroies).

2007 Domaine Bart Marsannay Rosé

12.5% alc., $13. Imported by Latitude Wines, Inc., Danville, CA. · Moderately deep pink coral color. Perfume of earthy red fruits and a mild roseate scent. Light in weight with crisp flavors of red raspberries and strawberries, marzipan and citrus peel finishing tart and dry. Score: 86

2007 Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Rosé

12.5% alc., $22. Imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL. · Moderately deep rose color. Bright strawberries and peaches compose a vivid nose followed on the palate with richly flavored strawberries and a sidecar of cherry cola and orange peel. Dry and pleasing with some persistence on the finish. Impressive. Score: 87

2006 Domaine Bart Marsannay Les Finottes

12.5% alc., $21. Imported by Latitude Wines Inc., Danville, CA. · Intense dark fruits with plenty of fecundity on the nose. On the palate the underlying dilute black cherry and raspberry fruit is overtaken by pushy oak tannins. The finish ends with a lively spark of citrus tang. Score: 82

2006 Domaine Ballorin & F Marsannay Les Echezots

12.5% alc., $24. Imported by Fruit of the Vine Inc., NY, NY. · Subdued notes of cherries, strawberries and wildflower on the nose. Earthy and rustic flavors of berry preserves with noticeable oak in the background. Slightly sweet with a strong grip of acidity. Score: 85

2006 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Les Champ Salomon Vielles Vignes

13.0% alc., $27.50. A Peter Weygandt and Burgundy Wine Co. Selection. · Expressive nose of spiced berries, forest floor, wet cement and oak. Light-weighted dark red fruits with refreshing acidity. The flamboyant tannins are imposing at present. Score: 86

2006 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Le Clos de Jeu Vielles Vignes

13.0% alc., $28.50. A Peter Weygandt Selection. · Slightly confected aroma of warm berry tart. Tart flavors of dry cherries and cranberries with an underpinning of grapefruit. On the light side with plenty of acidity, drying tannins, and sweet oak in the background. Score: 86

2006 Domaine Bart Marsannay Les Saint Jacques

13.0% alc., $30. Imported by Latitude Wines, Inc., Danville, CA. · A fruity nose composed of black cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Moderate in weight with loamy dark red fruits that are smooth and polished in the mouth. The tannins are reigned in and there is admirable fruity persistence on the finish. Nicely composed and well worth the tab. Score: 87

2005 Domaine Saint-Martin Marsannay Les Grands Vignes

13.0% alc., $20. Imported by Wine Warehouse, Los Angeles, CA, a Patrick Le Sec Selection. The proprietor is Martin Bart, whose father started the domaine in 1955. · Dark reddish-purple color. Dark plum, dark chocolate and oak char on the nose. Thick black and blue fruits tasting of mu shu plum sauce, citrus, mineral and marzipan. Big and intense, with some tannin to shed. Plenty of wine for $20. Score: 87

2005 Louis Latour Marsannay

12.0% alc., 8,000 cases, $20. Sourced from 25- to 30-year-old vines including ones in Les Longeroies and Clos du Roy, aged 12 months in a combination of 2- and 3-year-old French oak barrels and stainless steel. Imported by Louis Latour, Inc., San Rafael, CA. · Reddish robe. Scents of wild berries, violets, oak toast and stem. Tasty strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate core with an underpinning of earthiness and a grapefruit peel tang on the notably acidic finish. Mild dry tannins make for easy approachability. Score: 85

2005 Domaine Louis Jadot Marsannay

13.0% alc., $20. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY. · Subdued but pleasant perfume of black cherries and sandalwood. Tart and crisp black cherry flavors with a notable citrus tug, plenty of acidity and supporting oak in the background. Score: 85

2005 Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Les Longeroies

13.0% alc., $24. Imported by Vineyard Brands Inc., Birmingham, AL. A David Hass Selection. · Lovely cherry and berry fruit that is pure and tasty with an appealing restraint. The acidity is subdued, the texture is velvety, the tannins are in harmony and the whole package is thoroughly charming. Highly recommended. Score: 89

2005 Camille Giroud Marsannay Les Longeroies

12.5% alc., $25. Imported by Veritas Imports, Beverly Hills, CA, a Becky Wasserman and Burgundy Wine Company Selection. · Delicate and charming featuring raspberry, dried cherry and pomegranate fruits that slip lightly over the palate. Very smooth and delicate: a Grace Kelly of a wine. The most approachable wine of the several in this lineup and still drinking fine the next day from a previously opened re-corked bottle. I like it for what it is. Score: 87

2005 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Cuvée Vielles Vignes

12.0% alc., $27. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA, a Peter Weygandt Selection. Unfiltered. · Very dark plum color. Very appealing thick nose of raspberries, wooded forest, leather, warm brioche and char. A robust sweet core of black raspberry fruit with a taste of citric peel on the tangy finish which lingers. Velvety texture with substantial tannins. Should age nicely. Recommended. Score: 88

2005 Geantet-Pansiot Marsannay “Champs Perdrix”

12.5% alc., $30. Imported by Kysek Pere et Fils, Ltd., Winchester, VA. · Very slightly corked. Aromas of berries and green garden lead to a rich and delicious core of raspberries. Great purity of fruit with tannins, acids and oak working together harmoniously. Impressive material and balance in spite of the very slight cork taint.

2005 Olivier Guyot Marsannay Les Favieres

12.0% alc., $30. Imported by Michael Skurnick Wines,Syosett, NY, a Michael Skurnick Selection. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color. Aromas of fresh strawberries, black cherries and mushrooms draw you in. Bright medium weighted dark berry core framed by soft tannins with lively acidity on the earthy finish. Score: 87

Other producers of Marsannay worth seeking out include Domaine Roty, Fougeray de Beauclair, Domaine Phillipe Charlopin-Parizot, Denis Mortet, and Charles Audoin.

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