Domaine Marchand Freres Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2020
Dark and dense with ample fruit and a lot of character. New oak, of course, but there is enough ‘stuff’ there to support it. Old vines (from two plots within the sub-appellation Les Mazoyères), the younger one 60 year old vines.
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.
GRANDS CRUS OF GEVREY CHAMBERTIN
COTES DE NUITS
Vivid color ranging from deep ruby to black-cherry. Their aromas suggest strawberry, blackcurrant, and gooseberry as well as fruit pits, licorice, and spices. Violet, moss and underbrush are also common. On the palate, power, opulence and elegance unite to make a full and complex body, sappy and voluptuous. Keeping potential is 10 years minimum. Although these sumptuous Grands Crus share a family resemblance, each has its own distinctive nuances.
Gevrey-Chambertin lies alongside the Route des Grands Crus at the northern end of the Côte which runs from North to South between the Combes of Lavaux at one end and Morey-Saint-Denis at the other.Facing east, at altitudes between 240 and 280 meters.
The Clos de Bèze first appears in the history of the Côte de Nuits in the year 640 AD as a monastic property. In 1219 it passed to the canons of Langres, who retained ownership until the French Revolution (1789). The name Chambertin has been used since the 13th century and once shared imperial approval with Clos de Bèze - Napoleon would drink nothing else. Its boundaries have not changed since the Middle Ages. In recognition of their similarity, the 7 Climats adjoining those of Chambertin and Clos de Bèze attach the name Chambertin to their own names (except in the case of Clos de Bèze where the name Chambertin comes first).
This hill-slope lies on hard rocks. On the upper portion are brown soils, partly alluvial, partly scree, and some tens of centimeters deep. Lower down are clay limestone soils in varying proportions. Up-slope, the rocks are of Bathonian origin, lower down the marls and limestones belong to the Jurassic (Bajocian) and numerous marine fossils are to be found on the surface, recalling the sea which covered this area some 150 million years ago.