No, this is not the home of the Marsanne grape variety in the south of France- quite the opposite! In one of the very northernmost corners of Burgundy there is a very unique region that not many people know about. The Marsannay appellation is a part of the Côte de Nuits sub-region of Bourgogne a.k.a. Burgundy, of course one of the world’s most respected producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This appellation is the northernmost part of Burgundy that produces still red wines- the only part of the entire region that is further north is Chablis (and in fact this region sits even further north than about a third of Chablis!), something on its own that is very unique, but it’s got a lot more to it than that!
This far north, growing red grapes that achieve full colour and flavour ripeness is a constant struggle. But did the vignerons of Marsannay give up and throw in the towel? Merde Non! They did what any smart famer would do in tough weather conditions; they diversified! Marsannay is the only appellation in the entire Burgundy region allowed to produce red, white and rosé wines! Not only that, but they have a broader range of grapes to make these wines with! In Marsannay they of course grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and while the rosé they make here must consist of mostly Pinot Noir, a good lick of Pinot Gris is allowed to be added in, as well as up to 10% Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc!
One of the main reasons this appellation gets little recognition despite the interesting makeup of its wines is the lack of classified vineyards; there are no Grand Crus, or even Premier Crus in Marsannay. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t quality vineyards here- they were possibly just ignored by the monks further south. The main areas of production in Marsannay are the villages of Marsanny-la-Cote, Chenove and Couchey . Specific vineyards such as the Clos du Roy, Les Grasses Têtes and Les Longeoises show great potential, and there is talk of them being elevated to Premier Cu status. Many local producers, as well as renowned winemakers such as Bruno Clair and Jean Fournier who make wines from some of these sites, are unsurprisingly pushing hard to make this a reality.
In warmer vintages when the grapes are allowed to ripen fully, the reds are surprisingly plush and fruit driven, though they lack the firm tannins seen in sites further south where the grapes develop more colour. The rosé is a pale colour, much like the colour of watered-down cranberry juice, and has pleasant red-fruit characters. The whites, who only account for 15-25% of wines made in this appellation, are fresh and lively- not too dissimilar to their cousins due west in Chablis! Acid is found in abundance across all wines, red, white and rose- not unexpected in a region this far north!
Often referred to as the Porte d’Or (‘Golden Gate’) to the Côte de Nuits, Marsannay faces a threat to its survival brought on by the ever-growing human population- however I’m not talking about a changing climate! Dijon, located just to the north of Marsannay is Burgundy’s largest city and its administrative centre. It currently has a population of about a quarter of a million people, and the city is growing rapidly, and all these new residents are seeking a place to call home. This means the city’s residential, commercial and industrial developments are migrating further south, encroaching onto the wine-growing lands of the northern Cote d’Or each year. This northern-most section of the Côte de Nuits, and particularly the village of Chenove, is being slowly engulfed by the southwards expansion of Dijon. The expansion of a city brings with it not only more roads and people, but more air and noise pollution and higher land prices, all of which are having more and more of an effect on the terrior of Marsannay.
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