Domaine Marchand Freres Chambolle-Musigny ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2016
The very politically-incorrect French describe Chambolle-Musigny as the most ‘feminine’ of the Corte de Nuits reds. It is violets, like in Volnay, but richer and more complex, perhaps. The term often used is ‘lacy’. The old vines give it character, personality even, and a structure solid enough to age. But don’t miss the charm of youth either.
DOMAINE MARCHAND FRERES
The Domaine Marchand Freres has been in existence since 1813 through seven generations, and for most of that time it was based in Morey-St. Denis. In 1983, however, the domain bought a winemaker’s house in the very center of Gevrey-Chambertin, ostensibly for the beautiful working cellars underneath. But Gevrey gradually became the seat of the business, and today Denis Marchand lives in the beautifully restored house and receives guests in the cellars below.
The domain has small parcels in some very important vineyards in Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin, including premier cru ‘Les Sentiers’ in Chambolle, ‘Le Clos des Ormes’ in Morey and ‘Les Combottes’ in Gevrey. They also have holdings in Grand Cru Clos de la Roche, Griottes-Chambertin and Charmes Chambertin. But production is tiny, 1000 cases here, a few hundred there, mere dozens in the Grands Crus. Marchand Freres is the quintessential Burgundy domain: small production, high quality.
BURGUNDY 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
Remember, this was a tough one for Burgundy. For some producers, it was the fourth consecutive year that their vineyards were damaged and their yields were low. There had not been a ‘normal’ crop since 2009, so their cellars were empty. And when we talk of 50% crop loss, that’s an average across the region. Some areas had zero crop.
So when we get excited about the quality of the 2016s, we need a little restraint as well. Not everyone did the meticulous vineyard work that was necessary to get through the horrible start. As always, if you want to find the best wines, you need to know the best producers. Another important consideration in a low-yield vintage is the shortage of grapes, which means that the big negociant houses can have trouble sourcing fruit. Be careful with negociant wines in 2016. Buy from tried-and-true producers.
COTE DE NUITS
Rich in premiers crus and with 5 grands crus, the village should be a household name like its neighbors Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny. In fact, Morey forms a bridge between these two appellations and shares some climat names. The grands crus form a contiguous band from north to south through the village. Yet despite the fact that Morey produces some of the most consistently excellent wines in Burgundy, fame eludes it outside of the circle of aficionados. This often means that these wines, especially the village and premier cru appellations, can be great value.
The appellation Morey-Saint Denis includes 20 premiers crus and 5 grands crus
Producing commune: Morey-Saint Denis.
Most of Morey-Saint Denis planted with Pinot Noir, although a few parcels of Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc produce a rare curious white, generally said to be firm and opulent. But Morey is known for its reds, bright ruby or intense garnet, depending on the year. The fruit is black: blackberry and blackcurrant with trademark black cherry fruit and pit. When older it is classic Burgundy Pinot, with animal notes, undergrowth, leather and truffle. Structure and balance are qualities found in all great wine, and Morey is a paradigm. Body, fruit, volume and length are part of the package that Morey climats offer to careful winemakers. The potential for greatness is part of the mystic of the appellation.
The vines grow on limestone and clay-limestone soils dating from the middle jurassic with white bathonien oolite higher on the slopes and fossiliferous bajocien limestone at the foot. The vineyards are east-facing at altitudes of 220-270 meters. Immediately below the village the slopes are differently oriented and the soil has more marl.
Almost all reds - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 93.03 ha (including 41.92 ha premier cru)
Whites : 3.37 ha (including 0.74 ha premier cru)
The un-PC locals call the reds of Morey-Saint Denis 'masculine', as they are classic examples of full and powerful Cotes de Nuits. So dishes should also be strong and powerful to challenge the tannins and structure of the wine. Often game birds like pheasant are mentioned, as are roasted beef or veal.
On the label, the appellations 'Morey-Saint Denis' and 'Morey-Saint Denis' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The names of the grands crus are the climats themselves:
Clos de Tart
Clos de la Roche
Clos des Lambrays
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos des Ormes
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit:
Clos des Ormes
En la Rue de Vergy
Les Champs de la Vigne
Rue de Vergy