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Earlier in the week, I was wondering out loud about Marsannay and my colleague Michelle asked "When did Marsannay become cool?" When she asked me this, I paused. I thought about the first time I ever tasted a bottle of Marsannay that really made me sit up and take notice. It was 2008 and I was just starting to taste A LOT of wine. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar with importer Becky Wasserman, focused on producers that she considered milestones in her long career. One was Sylvain Pataille. We tasted his Marsannay "Ancestrale" red alongside wines from Lafarge and Mugnier - two legendary estates whose bottles command increasingly hair-raising prices. The Pataille not only held its own but was utterly compelling - it sat totally apart from the other wines.
For many years, Marsannay was best known for quite high-quality rosé. Its reputation for red wine was second-rate, due largely to the fact that there were no classed vineyards (still the case today!). Viewed from the train window or the autoroute, it looks more like a suburb of Dijon than a vineyard hamlet. But its story is like many other Burgundy satellites. As the region became more reknowned and its greatest wines grew unattainable, Marsannay emerged as a source of well-placed, undervalued vineyards for young progressive growers making bright stylish wines.
Over the last twenty years in Burgundy, there has been a steady movement away from the rich oaky wines that were de rigueur in the 1990s. Those were heavily extracted wines, with lots of punching down of the skins and pumping of the juice during fermentation. These days the trend leans towards "infusion," with whole bunches, only very gentle crushing of grapes and less working of the fruit in the tanks. The overall result is wines that are brighter, lacier and more lifted. The growers featured here today have all been at the forefront of this shift. The relatively low cost of vines allowed them room for experimentation and the new generation of Burgundy growers has been generally much more disposed to sharing ideas. Furthermore, all of them are either certified organic or waiting on certification. All in all, it's clear that Marsannay has not only become cool but that their work has helped shape what is cool. This is an opportunity to taste the very best of what this village has to offer!
Marsannay has historically been the loneliest of stepchildren among the villages of Burgundy. There are no classed vineyards and its northerly location made achieving ripeness a challenge in difficult vintages. But the current crop of Burgundy fanatics know that Marsannay is a hotbed of innovation and that the best domaines are as great as any in the region when it comes to producing wines of terroir. Laurent Fournier may not be the household name that his best friend Sylvain Pataille is, but the wines at Fournier are just as distinct and great as those of Pataille. The 2017 Cuvee Saint Urbain comes from vines planted largely in 1975, vinified with about 25% whole clusters and aged in wood (15% new) and concrete. It's a clear perfect snapshot of Marsannay, full of juicy red and blue fruit, a touch of baking spice, hoisin and a cool mineral spine. But then there is the lift and buoyancy of the lovely '17 vintage - the wine is full of energy, even weightless, making not only satisfying but fun to drink. I dare you not to finish the bottle in one sitting. Sam Ehrlich
From the Grasses Têtes and Grand Poirier lieux-dits. 10-20% whole cluster fermentation. The 2017 Marsannay offers aromas of wild strawberry, Morello cherry, black tea, and cool herbs on the nose. The mid-weight palate is a touch brambly, with wild berry and spice notes vying with a distinct earthy character for attention. The finish is persistent and offers a burst of black fruit and an almost minty character at the end. This leans in the direction of freshness, rather than rusticity and should age wonderfully in the mid-term, say 4-6 years. John McIlwain
Sylvain Pataille is doubtless the best known producer in Marsannay these days, and with good reason. A consulting oenologist before he started making his own wines, he has a reputation as a brilliant taster and analyst of wines and is equally deft when it comes to vineyard innovation. His success is all the more remarkable considering that he owns no vines of his own but rather leases all his land. "Longeroies" is considered one of the finest sites in the village, frequently cited as a candidate for elevation to Premier Cru status in a reclassification that may never happen. It's a treat to be able to offer this with some age and from a classic vintage such as 2014. This needs a minute to stretch its legs but blossoms with air, with baked red cherries and rhubarb, a touch of sweet soy and clove. The tannins are very fine and nearly resolved but the acidity and mineral spine lend plenty of structure. This still has years ahead of it but what a treat. Sam Ehrlich
Since taking over the estate completely, Cyril Audoin has taken leaps and bounds with his family's vineyards and wines. He has converted to organics and is waiting on certification. But he has also moved towards a much more lifted and ethereal style, making juicy buoyant reds and energetic whites. "Cuvee Marie Ragonneau" is an assemblage of several parcels of very old vines and in the snappy 2017 vintage it is a pleasure to drink. The fruit is all cherry and crisp raspberry, with a touch of black pepper and baking spice and a firm crunchy finish. The wood is well-judged here. All in all, delicious now and will age well to boot. Sam Ehrlich