Spotlight on Red Burgundy: Catherine et Claude Maréchal Pommard “La Chaniere” 2005

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The idea of a focused series on red Burgundy can, by definition, be a mere hint of the life consuming passion to be had exploring the Pinot Noirs of the Côte d’Or. It is near hubris to even attempt the task of a survey of the important villages and some key producers, vineyards and vintages. I can’t promise a perfectly orderly exploration, but I intend to vaguely follow a path from south (the Côte de Beaune) to north (the Côte de Nuits). The goal is both for me to learn from consistent comparison of the various wines and to prompt exploration by those who (like me) have felt overwhelmed by the prospect of truly delving into the world’s most complex wine region. The joys to be had are numerous, but require careful research and a willingness for risk, as even the most consistent producers can falter.

On Pommard

Pommard is perhaps the most recognizable name in the southern Côte de Beaune, and so an appropriate place to begin, though there are several villages making consistently better wine (Savigny, Volnay and the lone Beaune grand cru, Corton). There are also several more villages that lie south of Pommard: Santenay, St. Aubin, Blagny, St. Romain, Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie and Volnay. That said, Pommard does have a few top producers (Parent, Armand) and vineyards (Epenots and Rugiens).

As with most of the Côte de Beaune, Pommard’s vineyards face more south than east (vs. the prevalence of eastern facings in the Cote de Nuits), which means less accumulated warmth from morning sun. The Côte d’Or is crafted by its hills, as uninspiring they might initially seem, especially to us British Columbians. The ridge that runs from north to south tends to create the ideal sites on the mid-slope for great Pinot Noir. That slight elevation and aspect thus matters crucially in Burgundy. Pommard is atypical in that its top sites are all on the flat land rather than the ridge. Vignerons who make wine on this place are generally known as ‘flatlanders’, and Claude Maréchal comes from just such a family, though his father was a cereal farmer rather than a grape grower. Ironically, then, does this wine come from one of Pommard’s highest elevation vineyards – La Chaniere, which sits in a thin rectangle about 25-50 metres above the town of Pommard.

In contrast to the elegance and floral nature of most wines from its neighbour Volnay, Pommard is known to produce heftier, more tannic wines that need a bit of time to resolve. It is surmised that this is due to Pommard’s iron-rich Marl soils.

Flatlander

Fortunately in Burgundy, though most good things come in expensive packages, not all do. The relatively new Maréchal estate is a great example of the rare good value quality Burgundy. It is helpful to know that Maréchal is imported by Dressner in the U.S. and, as such, adheres to a certain philosophy. Maréchal uses no herbicides, plowed vineyards, vinifies without forced fermentations in open wooden vats, and uses a judicious amount of new oak. However, Maréchal is not a naturalist and believes the risks of organic viticulture are not always worth it (and sometimes have no impact) – so the philosophy is lutte raisonée.

The aim here is to make “vins de plaisir” – wines that focus on pleasure more than intellectual stimulation. Even at this relatively youthful stage, the 2005 fit that philosophy perfectly.

Claude began the domaine in 1981 using rented plots, and has since continued that trend, now making wines from rented plots all over the Côte de Beaune. In the mid 1980’s Maréchal met Henri Jayer, who became a huge source of inspiration and learning. Since then Maréchal’s wines have drastically improved and now offer fine wine for incredible value.

Vin de Plaisir

2005 is, of course, perhaps the greatest modern vintage of Burgundy. Wine quality was way up nearly across the board, and the best wines have the structure to age and improve for decades. It’s become hard to get good wines from this vintage for prices south of three digits. Maréchal presents an option with this beautiful La Chaniere.

As mentioned, this is a vin de plaisir. It is floral, bright and filled with red berry and earth notes. A fruity, concentrated wine that is very expressive right now with superb balance and filled with ripe, forward flavours. But, the wine is also restrained just enough to keep it all in balance. Despite this immediate pleasure and exuberance, there is enough structure here to support 5 more years of aging.

Excellent to Eexcellent+
~$40 at Garagiste (apparently the enlightened buyers at the SAQ bring this into Quebec for $50)

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