Domaine Marchand Freres Chambolle-Musigny ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2020
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.
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
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