As the most northerly outpost of the Côte d’Or, Marsannay sits in the long shadow of Dijon. The hill of Marsannay forms a complex, clay-limestone (middle Jurassic) east-facing hillside that has many geological faults and is intersected by multiple Combes (side valleys). It is clearly consistent and continuous with the rest of the Côte d’Or, though historically the vines of Chenôve, Marsannay-la-Côte and Couchey were, rather, part of the Côte Dijonnaise. Much of the rest of the Côte Dijonnaise was lost to development, following the unplanted post-phylloxera years.
It’s very easy to under-appreciate the size of the Marsannay appellation; Marsannay La Côte has 268 hectares* of vines producing red, white and rosé Marsannay – Marsannay is the only holder of a villages AOC for rosé in Burgundy – so that’s already one-third more hectares than Volnay. But there is also Marsannay produced in Chenôve – 40 hectares – and Couchey – 183 hectares. So now we have almost 500 hectares of Marsannay appellation (though not all is currently planted) which is more hectares than AOC Meursault (including Meursault 1er Cru) and only about 10% less than AOC of Gevrey-Chambertin plus all of its associated 1er and Grand Crus!
*Multiple numbers are available, I have chosen those from Climats et lieux-dits des grands vignobles de Bourgoogne, Landrieu-Lussigny, Pitiot, 2012.
And Marsannay 1er Crus?
Marsannay Clos du Roy – 1er Cru?
There is a well-publicised project to promote certain vineyard areas to 1er cru – which would be an astonishing rise in ‘AOC ranking’ considering that, until 1965, Marsannay was only labelled as Bourgogne rouge. From 1965 the growers were allowed to append the name Marsannay, but the wine remained ‘Bourgogne’ – Bourgogne Rouge de Marsannay was the fudge of the time. There followed a project by the growers to increase the renown of their wines by promoting their standing to Côte de Nuits Villages – but other growers of CDNV in Fixin, Corgoloin and Comblanchien banded together to veto the change. So it was a big surprise in 1987 when the INAO granted the full ‘villages‘ appellation to Marsannay and its three colours of wine. But clearly, time waits for no man (or woman), as the growers have wasted little time in pushing for 1er cru designations within the Marsannay appellation.
So what are they actually pushing for? The plan is combine 24 different lieu-dits to produce 14 different 1er crus, alphabetically:
- 1er Cru Au Champ Salomon from the commune of Couchey, by fusing two lieux-dits of En Clémongeot and Au Champ Salomon
- 1er Cru Aux Genelières from the commune of Couchey, by fusing eight lieux-dits; En Combereau, En la Malcuite, Aux Grands Bandeaux, Au Ronsoy, Au Champs St-Étienne, Aux Genelières, En Charrière and La Quenicière
- 1er Cru Champs Perdrix from the commune of Couchey, by fusing five lieux-dits; Au Quartier, La Plantelle, Le Désert, Le Moisereau et Champs-Perdrix
- 1er Cru Clos du Jeu from the commune of Marsannay
- 1er Cru En/La Montagne from the commune of Marsannay
- 1er Cru La Charme aux Prêtres from the commune of Marsannay including Les Rosey
- 1er Cru Le Clos from the commune of Couchey
- 1er Cru Le Clos du Roy from the commune of Chenôve
- 1er Cru Les/Es Chezots from the commune of Marsannay, the the actual lieu-dit is Les Echézeaux!
- 1er Cru Les Boivin from the commune of Marsannay
- 1er Cru Les Favières from the commune of Marsannay
- 1er Cru Les Grasses Têtes from the commune of Marsannay
- 1er Cru Les Longeroies from the commune of Marsannay, to include the Bas des Longeroies, Dessus des Longeroies and Monchenevoy
- 1er Cru Saint-Jacques (a part) from the commune of Marsannay
These 14 climates are all located on the upper and middle parts of the Marsannay vignoble, set at altitudes between 280 and 330 meters. The 14 climats are principally facing to the east, south and between, so share the typical profile of the rest of the Côte de Nuits.
NB it is not only about the promotion of some Marsannay vines to Marsannay 1er Cru, there are also some (admittedly well-placed) parcels of Bourgogne that locals wish to promote to ‘Marsannay’ – parcels close to housing called Champs Forets for example – presumably this change has the extra benefit that it would make it harder for town planners to change the use of the land to ‘building land!’
|hl: 5 year av.|
Figures courtesy the BIVB
2015 was a relatively low-yielding vintage in Marsannay due to coulure/millerandes brought about by the long dry vintage. The 5-year-average production shows the importance of Marsannay to Burgundy – averaging about 13.5 million bottles of wine for the last 5 years.
Red Marsannay: can be a generous, modestly structured wine. I don’t find quite the same minerality or weight as in Gevrey-Chambertin, but I find excellent Côte de Nuits character without the extra structure you would find in Nuits St.Georges, for example. I will never turn away a glass of Marsannay from a good producer, and Longeroies made at my ‘home harvest domaine’ each year has always been a rewarding bottle. The bottles can age too – 1996s drunk this year have been in great shape. But what about the thorny question of premier crus?
Well, on one hand, the hillside structure of the Marsannay appellation is directly comparable to the same in most other parts of the Côte d’Or with a certain ‘sweet spot’ of vines/wines in the mid to higher slopes. The wines made from here, in the same cellar, are better than from other parts of Marsannay – so, yes, some parts of Marsannay are better than others. But at this stage I would counsel that the 1er crus make sense in the context of Marsannay, but they are not a consistent badge of quality to compare with, for instance, the 1er crus of other villages such as Vosne-Romanée or Gevrey-Chambertin. Even the best of Marsannay might be bested by a great villages Gevrey, such as Clos Prieur (the villages part) or Clos Tamisot.
White Marsannay: Has never been a ‘go to‘ wine for me. The texture is usually a little richer and weightier than I prefer – some producers have made delicious wines – such as Sylvain Pataille, but even Sylvain’s most recent efforts have not been my thing from an aromatic perspective – here the discussion is more about low-sulfur wines, rather than Marsannay wines though!
Rosé Marsannay: Marsannay is the only place in the Côte d’Or where Rosé has a villages appellation rather than Bourgogne – note that ‘southern’ Burgundy has Beaujolais Villages Rosé though. Here it is a market developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Clair, because it was so difficult to sell the wines of the region – it was an idea that worked magnificently well. As a style it can be a very tasty wine, though like the white it is most definitely a wine of richness more than overt freshness – but that imbues something rare for a rosé – longevity – I have drunk very interesting Marsannay rosé which was 20 years old!
It is fair to say that, to most people (and I included myself in this generalisation), Marsannay is something of a ‘black-box’ appellation – it looks complex on a map, and you will not have heard of many of its lieu-dits – including many that may become premier crus! It’s only when you take to the vineyard roads, north to south, Chenôve to Couchey, that you begin to realise the vastness of the Marsannay appellation.
78 named lieu-dits can make red or white Marsannay and a further 48 can produce Marsannay Rosé – it’s fair to say that Marsannay will remain a black-box whilst such complexity remains. I have tried to pull out some of the more important areas:
Clos du Roy or Clos du Roi is the most northerly part of Marsannay and was once an important part of the Côte de Dijonnaise, indeed with the exception of Sylvain Pataille’s Bourgogne Clos du Chapitre, it’s just about the only part of the old Côte de Dijonnaise that still has vines. Sitting above Chenôve, on a modest slope, there are 25 hectares worth of vines whose most visible attribute is the row pines that mark its border at the top of the hill. Look out for bottles by Bouvier, Fournier and of-course Pataille.
Les Longeroies, now in Marsannay-la-Côte, borders the Clos du Roy and is the proposed banner for the blend of Bas des Longeroies, Dessus des Longeroies and Monchenevoy. Including a couple of hectares of Longeroies that are classified for Marsannay Rosé, there are almost 39 hectares here – ranging from much stonier higher slopes to a significant portion that is almost flat with darker, deeper soil – but interestingly with multiple fenced ‘gardens’ dotted around the vignoble. Look out for bottles from Bruno Clair (my 98’s are still good!), Pataille, Fournier, Denis Mortet and Bouvier.
Les Es Chezots (13.5 hectares) and En La Montagne (4.7 hectares). On the higher ground adjacent to Longeroies comes both Es Chezots and La Montagne. The former was always called Les Echézeaux but various growers had to be original in their spellings as the grand cru version wasn’t allowed to be written on the label. En La Montagne is more complex with some discreet parcels hidden among the trees above Longeroies. Both of these crus sit on a hillside that gradually is turning into a Combe in the direction of Corcelles-Les-Monts – it’s colder here, but there is a little compensation for the vines are they are now largely direct-south facing. Deeper into the combe there are no vines – it’s simply too cold – you will find summer corn! Bart and Fournier make good Es Chezots, Pataille and Olivier Guyot for La Montagne – “It has the same exposure as Estournelles St.Jacques” says Sylvain Pataille!
La Combe du Pré (3.5 hectares) nestles between Les Es Chezots and En La Montagne at the top of the hill, yet is not in the list of potential 1er Crus – an ommission? – the wine of Jerome Galeyrand is excellent.
Here comes a break in the chain of proposed 1er crus – but there are interesting vines/wines all the same – maybe it is the flat land below the cold combe but here, as continuations of Longeroies you will find Finottes (1.9 hectares), produced by Domaine Bart and Les Ouzeloy (5.3 hectares) labelled as such by Roty and Bouvier. These are strong renditions of Marsannay – perhaps the geological (consistency of) arguments were not sufficiently compelling for the 1er cru dossier…
A road cuts through the vines here, heading west into the combe and the woods. As we move onto the south side of the road, the size of the lieu-dits becomes much smaller and, hence, there is an increase in complexity – to the west (uphill towards the combe) is a section devoted to Marsannay Rosé, and then Les Vaudenelles (2.6 hectare), I only know the wine of Bruno Clair, and it is less forceful than either his Longeroies or his Grasses Têtes. Then comes some simplification if we concentrate on the new (proposed!) 1ers:
La Charme aux Prêtres (7.9 hectares) runs almost from the top of the hill right down into the village and includes the area once known as Les Rosey – this middle section has more slope than the swathe of vines towards, and including much of, Longeroies – we are very much in the hillside vernacular of the Côte d’Or here. The only wine I actually know from here is a white – produced by Pataille.
The next proposed 1er crus are Boivins (7.4 hectares) then Grasses Têtes (8 hectares) which run from the top to the bottom of the slope. Then comes two vines; Saint Jacques (1.7 hectares) which sits above Clos de Jeu (3.6 hectares). I’ve known and enjoyed multiple bottlings of the Grasses Têtes, but until recently I didn’t know Boivins or Clos de Jeu, but the new regime at Château de Marsannay are producing interesting wines, and then there a fine bottles to found at Domaine de Collotte. Saint Jacques takes its name from all the fossilised scallops and other sea-shells that litter this limestone vineyard – I know only the wine(s) – both colours – chez Fougeray de Beauclair, the white chez Fougeray is mainly pinot blanc.
Les Favières (4.8 hectares) has a little more clay, though not very thick and you can see the bedrock in several places. The vines are mid-slope – a modest slope – producing good wines of weight and sometimes spice.
The next proposed 1er crus are over the notional border into Couchey – still on the northern side of the village of Couchey but continuous with the last vines of Marsannay-la-Côte.
Au Genelières (16.1 hectares) now in Couchey, has the possibility to significantly simplify this complex section of vines by grouping together Aux Genelières (2.43 ha) with En Combereau, En la Malcuite, Aux Grands Bandeaux, Au Ronsoy, Au Champs St-Étienne, Aux Genelières, En Charrière and La Quenicière.
Au Champ Salomon (6.8 hectares) includes the 1.3 hectare lieu-dit of En Clémongeot – Sylvain Pataille owns 1 hectare of En Clémongeot. This middle section of vines has lots of mini terraces with old stone walls demarcating the vines. The 2015 from Domaine Collotte is super!
Then comes the village of Couchey and the vines are almost completely bisected by the conurbation – only above the village is there a continuous line of vines. Here the vines go higher and the slope is steeper as the vines continue south towards Fixey (Fixin).
Volnayesque – the classic slope down to the route nationale D974 – here between Couchey and Fixey.
The last two (potential) 1er crus lie here, a big one and a small one:
Champs Perdrix (34.1 hectares) is a massive construction and indeed simplification of multiple lieu-dits, taking in Au Quartier, La Plantelle, Le Désert, Le Moisereau and Champs-Perdrix which already covers 22.65 hectares. Despite the size of the vinyeard, I’ve only seen wines from Huguenot Père and the Château de Marsannay.
Standing next to Champs Perdrix, and separate from Les Clos (two parcels next to the village), is the joint-smallest of the proposed 1ers – Es Clos (1.7 hectares). I’ve not met any wines from here.