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Edges of Burgundy: Marsannay

After a lengthy hiatus -- sorry everyone -- this is the next installment in a series that explores sources of good value in Burgundy.  We’ve already looked at the following villages:  St. AubinSantenaySavigny-les-Beaune and Mercurey.  

Today, we’re going to look at Marsannay.

In the last post in this series -- published several months ago now I'm afraid to say -- we focused on Pinot Noir grown in the very most southerly corner of Burgundy where the grape is grown successfully.  Today we go to Marsannay, which is at the complete opposite end: up North, running into the suburbs of Dijon.

It is easy to see why Marsannay gets "Edges" status.  It is literally at the very edge of the Cote d'Or.  For a long while, it's wines were all designated mere Bourgogne.  That only changed in 1987, when Marsannay was awarded full AOC status.  It still does not have any premier crus, and many people still associate it with Rose (interesting fact: Marsannay is the only village entitled to produce in red, white and rose!).

But it really is part of the Cote d'Or, and not so far from Gevrey Chambertin.  It has many vineyards situated in ideal mid-slope sites, oriented east and southeast.  It has some championship producers in names like Bruno Clair, Sylvain Pataille and Roty.  This is fertile ground for bargain hunting.

Where is Marsannay?

Basically, it stretches from Fixin at its southern end to Dijon at its northern end.  In this stretch there are three villages, Marsannay-la-Cote, Chenove and Couchey, with vineyards that are allowed to be declared as Marsannay.  These vineyards really are on the Cote that continues north from Gevrey Chambertin, and the best vineyards are all on the gentle slopes that face east or southeast.  Like the rest of the Cote d'Or, the inferior vines are all east of the road.  In the case of Marsannay, any red or white wine produced east of the road only merits Bourgogne status.  Only the Rose may be called Marsannay (though technically it is a different AOC, "Marsannay Rose").

Map of Marsannay, Burgundy Wine Region

How about the terroir?

You guessed it:  more limestone.  For you geologists out there, we are talking the fossil-rich Bajocian also found in villages like Chambolle Musigny and Gevrey Chambertin.  Good stuff!

There are also bits of clay and silt scattered through the AOC.  But on the whole this looks like good terroir for Pinot Noir.  If you're positioned right:  ideally mid-slope.

How are the wines?

Although the Rose and Chardonnay produced in Marsannay is perfectly fine, Marsannay is a village that qualifies for its "Edges" status because of its red wines made from Pinot Noir.  No, you will never confuse them for Richebourg or Bonne Mares, but this is one of the world's best sources for Pinot Noir in the $30 price range.  You can also find more expensive examples that are of really exceptional quality.

They are a bit like Gevrey, but lighter.  They are a bit red fruitier, and less tannic.  They usually drink well young, although I have had structured wines from the likes of Roty that were not quite ready to drink even at age 10.

Red Marsannay is a good wine to buy.  You can put them in your cellar and really pull them whenever you feel like it -- it's rare that you'll hit one that isn't ready yet, but good examples have no problem keeping.

Are there important vineyards?

As mentioned above, Marsannay does not have any premier crus.  Even Maranges has premier crus!  (Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that St. Romain is the only other village of the Cote d'Or without any premier crus).

It doesn't seem fair, and the INAO knows it. They are currently contemplating upgrading a number of the finer vineyards of Marsannay, many of which are already legally allowed to declare themselves as "lieu dits" on the bottle.  Of course, as fair as this may be to the local growers, it does make it likely that consumers will face higher prices in the future.

So what are the good lieu dits?

Honestly, I don't feel comfortable giving a ranking of the lieu-dits, and in researching this article I noticed that this is an attitude shared by most commentators.  In Gevrey, we all know that Clos St. Jacques is a wonderful premier cru because there are five producers growing grapes there and making wine, and they are all very good.  There really isn't comparable data in Marsannay.

Instead, you have particular bottlings that have consistently good track records. These are particular wines made by particular producers in particular lieu dits.

So what are they?  What wines should I get from Marsannay?

There are two great producers that really specialize in Marsannay.

Probably the greatest star of the village is Sylvain Pataille.  He is an excellent wine-maker, working in a traditional style, and he has some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the AOC.  All his Marsannays are good and worth trying, and most of them are priced like Marsannay.  One wine -- his Marsannay "l'Ancestrale" -- is from very old vines and is exceptionally good.  It, unfortunately, is much more expensive than typical Marsannay, but if you ever have a chance to taste I think you will agree that it's worth the tariff.

Another Marsannay specialist worth seeking out is Regis Bouvier, who's style is touch more modern than Pataille's.  Bouvier works in two of the more famous lieu dits of Marsannay: Clos du Roy and Langeroies.  Both are exceptionally good values in terroir-focused Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

Bruno Clair is based in Marsannay but his holdings in the rest of the Cote d'Or are so impressive that I would hesitate to describe him as a Marsannay specialist.  But he does make very delicious Marsannay in several important lieu dits, including Longeroies, Vaudenelles and Grasse Tetes.  The stye here is quite traditional.

Joseph Roty is more famous for his Gevrey Chambertin, but I snap up his Marsannays whenever I find them.  His top wine from Marsannay is from the lieu dit Ouzeloy.  The wine is polished and it ages beautifully.

So how do I get started exploring Marsannay?

Shop Marsannay in NYC.

Shop Marsannay in SF.


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