The most northerly appellation in the Côte d'Or, Marsannay encompasses three villages almost to Dijon, the northern regional center of Burgundy. The main one, from which the appellation takes its name, is Marsannay-la-Côte, but the vineyards are also sourced from Couchey and Chenôve. The villages encompass 12.72 square miles, of which about 560 acres is used to make wine. There are no Premier or Grand Cru terroirs here. The vineyards yield about 100,000 cases of wine each year, most of which is red.
The red wines, which are dry and sometimes austere but often ripe and ageworthy, are a rare good value in Burgundy. Whites are fairly undistinguished and uncommon. The rosé wine actually gives the village most of its fame; in fact, Marsannay is the only Côte d'Or appellation allowed to make rosé. Almost entirely made from Pinot Noir, it is rarely serious but can be inexpensive and enjoyable. None of these wines can be expected to have the same complexity or depth as any of the top Côte de Nuits villages, but offer a way to get similar style for much less money.
Created in 1987, the AOC did not rule out rosé wine. It is made from Pinot Noir; Pinot Gris is allowed to be blended in but this rarely occurs. The red wines can include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, while the whites can also include Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (although they must be made from a majority of Chardonnay.) Marsannay is effectively a newcomer, among villages that were granted status as early as 1936, but it has quickly made a name for itself in the less exclusive part of the Burgundy market.
Climate and Viticulture
Marsannay has typical Côte de Nuits soil, with limestone, granite, and clay making up a large part of the vineyards. Certain parts of the vineyards are sloped, but few have enough soil concentration to make for truly great wine; as a result, the appellation does not contain any Premiers Crus or Grands Crus. Part of the reason could be the slightly cooler climate, which perhaps makes wines of an overly lean and dry style in some bad scenarios. However, this tends to favor rosé production.
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir red makes up about 2/3 of the red production and its rosés are another 1/6 of production, making Pinot a very important variety here. Made up mostly of cherry and dark fruit, the reds are a simple Pinot Noir style but with sufficient tannins to bring the wines into competition with villages such as Aloxe-Corton, Fixin, and Ladoix-Serrigny. In fact, a few cuvées here are downright excellent; although dry, they have enough substance to merit a few years of aging. The delicate, minerally rosé is much less distinguished, but the best can offer flavors of minerals and bitter oranges, with no sweetness or heaviness.
- Chardonnay: Plenty of Chardonnay is produced in Marsannay, certainly more than in any other Côte de Nuits village. As white wine it makes up approximately 1/6 of production. However, almost no Chardonnays have an expert pedigree, and those that do are not inexpensive enough to really make them competitive.
Red wine from Pinot Noir is the primary wine in Marsannay, despite the village's reputation for its rosé, and as such the overwhelming majority of wines with a very good pedigree here are red. They are monopolized by three main producers; intriguingly, none of these are négociants. Since there are no Premiers Crus, producers take on a more important role here than in other villages.
- Domaine Bruno Clair: There are three lieu-dit wines here; village wine is produced but is very obscure. The "Les Vaudenelles" is spicy and lively, characterized mostly by red fruits. More complexity is found in the "Les Grasses Têtes", but this wine is sweet and similarly vibrant. The "Les Longeroies" is usually the best, much more smoky and earthy, with darker fruit flavors and more atypical leather and chocolate notes. This is the only ageworthy one, with about 3-5 years' cellaring potential. All three of these are often under $25 as well!
- Domaine Denis Mortet: The basic village Marsannay is consistent, but the best here comes from the "Les Longeroies" lieu-dit. This wine is extremely rich and concentrated, with layers of red and black fruit given firmness by a mineral undertone. Earthiness is rare, but leathery, chocolatey tones sometimes intrude as well. There's plenty of complexity here, and this wine is commendably consistent. Age it for 3-5 years, preferably. Prices are around $50.
- Domaine Joseph Roty: The village-level wine here is at a higher level than that of most other producers', with a ripe core of red and black fruits to go along with an intriguing meaty element. The "Quartier" is often closest to the village wine in quality, with somewhat austere black fruit flavors and deceptive sweetness. This one will not be ready to drink for several years. Smokier and earthier, the "Boivins" has much less in the way of fruit, but is rich enough to promise great flavor after a few years of surliness. The "Champs St-Etienne" has more black fruit and flowers, in an elegant style, but with plenty of firmness to go along. The "Clos de Jeu" is much better, with the same flavors but composited together in a fresher, easier-to-drink style, but at the same time with more texture and complexity. Sweet, liqueur-like and concentrated, the "Ouzeloy" is more for lovers of old vines, but needs a few years of aging in order to show balance. All these cuvées have something for everyone, and most admirably, are usually under $40.
Rosés generally have a good pedigree, as they make a good quaffing wine, but there are at least two clear leaders that make truly quality-oriented rosé from their Marsannay vineyards.
- Domaine Regis Bouvier: Often great rosés are produced here in a classic Marsannay style. Although they have little sweetness, they are rich and minerally with flavors of bitter red fruit, flowers and herbs. An austere rosé, as most are, but as such enjoyable.
- Domaine Collotte: There have been a few very good vintages in this domaine's history, where the dramatic rosés show energetic, minerally flavors of red fruit, oranges, and stones. Rarely an intense style, it shows the elegant side of Marsannay.
For white wines, the Château de Marsannay is one of the best, making Chardonnay of a good pedigree, although it can be overpriced.
The AOC board never found any of Marsannay's vineyards to be worthy of Premier Cru or Grand Cru status. However, there is one lieu-dit that offers great wines made by both Domaine Bruno Clair and Domaine Denis Mortet. This is "Les Longeroies"—considering the wines that are being made there, the authorities should probably consider bumping it to Premier Cru.