In a superbly written essay about the spirituality of wine, Michigan-born novelist, poet, and wine enthusiast Jim Harrison discovered a secret French bible that declares: to drink red wine after dark is to fight off the night in our souls. We tested this assertion with a bottle of 2011 Domaine Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Les Longeroies and have concluded that the theory is applicable to drinking red wine before dark and during sunset, too.
Indeed, we had such a good time two weeks ago in quest of quality wine from the far corners of Burgundy that we wanted to get right back to the pursuit. So this week we travel by glass to Marsannay, the opposite end of the Côte d’Or, and the northernmost appellation of Côte de Nuits.
Marsannay is quite unique in the region. It is the only village-level appellation which may produce rosé wines. And although vineyard sites have been noted there since as early as the seventh century, there was a lengthy period of time when they were used mainly to supply simple wine made from Gamay grapes to the city pubs of Dijon. But that time is long gone. Today’s Pinot Noir based Marsannay is closer in style to nearby Gevrey-Chambertin, if slightly more rustic.
It is passionate winemakers like Sylvain Pataille, himself a darling of the French Press, that are creating wines of merit from this lesser-known region. After studying in Bordeaux, Pataille worked as a successful consulting enologist in Burgundy while establishing his own domaine, starting with 2.5 acres in 1999. Presently, he works 34 acres of organically certified vines (with some biodynamic practices) that include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Aligoté, for a total production of 4,500 cases a year on average, Les Longeroies being a tiny portion of that total.
At the domaine, grapes are hand-picked and sorted both in the vineyard and cuverie. Vinification is done in stainless steel and fiberglass tanks with indigenous yeasts. Aging takes place over 12-18 months in a maximum of 30-35% new oak, more for structure than aroma. Pataille is very flexible in regard to new oak, preferring the vintage to guide the amount used, rather than he forcing the vintage into a predetermined formula.
The Lieu-dit (a single plot of land that has demonstrated terrior) of Les Longeroies is considered one of the finest terriors of Marsannay. It is made up of limestone, marl, clay, stone and gravel, and shared by noted domaines such as Denis Mortet and Bruno Clair. Pataille’s 2011 bottling from this parcel had a large percentage of whole cluster fermentation and shows generous aromas of wild, Lake Superior blueberries and huckleberries at their peak of ripeness. It is a polished wine, yet you don’t know whether you should drink it or use it as a crêpe topping. A glass is overflowing with brilliant, concentrated fruit and an enduring acidity that indicates this vintage should develop in the cellar over the next 10-15 years.
But you need not wait that long. Open a bottle as you please. Some time with air will reward the patient drinker with more and more luscious fruit, and perhaps even a brightening of the soul.