The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.

She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”

I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”

Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.

You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).

bearonwinelogoWhat you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.



Burgundy Profile: MARSANNAY

“Professor Pinot” has a nice ring to it. But what is it? Professor Pinot is the sort of Pinot Noir that college professors look for and drink. What makes college professors different? The are exposed to a lot of the better things in life and are often some of the smartest buyers but often operate on limited budgets because most college professors, like most other teachers, are under-paid. What does that have to do with Marsannay? Well, just about everything. Marsannay appeals to the professor – wine consumer on all levels.100_marsannay_lacote

Marsannay is the northern most village and wine appellation on the Cote de Nuits on the Cotes d’Or in Burgundy where it buts up against the south moving urban sprawl of the city of Dijon.

While it is true to say that Marsannay is less well known than its more expensive neighbors, it is still “in the neighborhood” Meaning it’s red wines are made from Pinot Noir grown in the same types of soils on the same slope as its more famous neighbors (such as Gevrey Chambertin, Morey St. Denis, etc.).

Actually, the Marsannay appellation is made up of three villages; from north to south, they are Chenove, Marsannay, and Couchey. Chenove has the least vineyards and is in eminent danger of being completely absorbed into the urban sprawl on the south side of Dijon, Marsannay the village, while still home to many wine domaines, is becoming something of a bedroom community for Dijon and little Couchey is not far behind. The vineyards at the bottom of the slope (close to the former RN74, now D974 road from Dijon down to Beaune) are Chardonnay for Marsannay Blanc and Pinot Noir for Marsannay Rosé. Once the slope proper begins to rise (well to the west of the road), the grapes from these better situated vineyards, many of which carry lieu diet names, are used for the red wines labeled Marsannay.

As they are at the north end of the famed Cote d’Or ridge, these vineyards are a bit cooler than those further south but they still have the highly prized limestone-based terroir and desirable east-southeastern exposure. What the Marsannay appellation lacks is a famous Grand Cru or even premier cru (1er cru) vineyard to carry its appellation name to greater fame. Where Vosne Romanee has Romanee Conti, where Gevrey Chambertin has Le Chambertin, where Meursault has Genevrieres, Marsannay has … well, nothing. Marsannay has little flash so it consequently has little fame. With little fame comes lower prices so Marsannay gives value.

Rather than a famous single site that has official recognition as a great terroir, Marsannay has lots of neat single sites officially known as lieux dits at the village level. Like a 1er cru, a lieux dit name can appear on the label with the village name. Some famous lieux dits include Meursault-Limozin and Puligny- Montrachet les Enseigneres. These lieux dits are sites that are recognized for quality but are just below the 1er cru level. In some cases they are very close but they are still village (pronounced vee-lahj like “vee lodge” without the “d”) wines (the third level in the Burgundy hierarchy). Nevertheless, as single vineyard wines, the wines labeled with the name of the village and the name of a single site they are usually more focused and cleaner tasting than a producer’s village (say it with me – vee-lahj) blend.

While there are simple village level, non-site-specific blends labeled Marsannay, the best wines from the appellation come from the single site lieux dit vineyards. One producer we began to follow back in the mid 1990s – Domaine St. Martin – makes several wines labeled Marsannay _______. Maybe it is Marsannay Champs Salomon or Marsannay Finottes or Marsannay Grand Vignes or Marsannay Longerots. The most fun may be Marsannay Echezeaux which had to change its name to Marsannay Echezots (which is pronounced the same) in order to placate the growers in the Grand Cru vineyard called simply Echezeaux – even though there is at least a $100 per bottle price difference between the two.

As Marsannay is a lesser know appellation, the prices are lower than for comparable “village level” wines from other appellations making them smart buys for those looking to drink good Burgundy Pinot Noir on a budget – which makes Marsannay, along with Maranges (at the south end of the Cote de Beaune, and Hautes Cotes de Nuits and some of the Chalonnaise wines, Professor Pinots.

While Spec’s carries a number of Marsannay wines, it should be obvious from the list below that my favorite Marsannay producer is Domiane St. Martin. Unfortunately, if you look at a map of Marsannay, you don’t find such a domaine. You do find, however a “Domaine Bart” owned in part by Martin Bart.2007 marsannay echezots

Domaine St. Martin is a sort of virtual domaine that is a joint venture between vigneron Martin Bart and elevage expert and artesinal wine broker Patrick Lesec. Bart owns Domaine Bart, a Marsannay successor estate to the former Domaine Clair Dau (the vineyards of which were purchased by Louis Jadot). The domaine has 15 hectares (38 acres) of vineyards with vines ranging in age from 20 to over 60 years old in multiple lieux dits in  Marsannay as well as Santenay, Fixin, Gevrey, and Chambolle. Patrick Lesec is a broker who works with such Burgundy domaines as Jean Louis Trapet and Henri & Giles Remoriquet. He is an expert at elevage – the art and science of taking a wine from just after fermentation through the cellaring process into the bottle – who advocates a non-interventionist approach where wines are racked no more than twice while they’re developing in the barrel, left unfiltered and unfined, and are often hand-bottled directly from the barrel with no assemblage. Why? Because racking, fining, filtering, blending, and processing through a pressurized bottling line all take away some of the flavor and aroma of the wines. Some of that flavor comes back but some is lost forever.

Bart tends the vineyards, farming to keep the yields low (but in balance) and harvests the grapes at maximum ripeness. Bart typically ferments the wine with a five day “cold soak” (pre-fermentation maceration) and fermentation that lasts 15 days. The Bart/Lesec cuvees are released not as “Domaine Bart” but as “Domaine St. Martin” to differentiate them from Domaine Bart’s own bottlings.

I could give you my tasting notes on these wines but they really don’t matter. They’re only snapshots of what the wines tasted like at a particular moment in time. The wines are all close in quality and frankly, some weeks one will show a bit better than the other and other weeks it won’t. They each age and develop on their own curves. A few years back, I served four of the St. Martin Marsannay lieux dits at Thanksgiving dinner and, although they all showed well, there was a consensus favorite. At Christmas dinner that same year, I served the same four wines again. Again they all showed well but this time there was a different consensus favorite. The point is that they are all good and all great values and it is virtually impossible to pick which will show best on a given day – which of course is part of both the fun and the frustration of Burgundy.

CAMILE GIROUD Marsannay Longerois 2009 ($42.74)
BRUNO CLAIR Marsannay Longerois 2009 ($34.49)
St. MARTIN Marsannay les Longerois, 2009 ($29.99)
Longerois is on clay soils (in Burgundy clay = fruit) at the north end of the lieu diet band near the top of the slope.

St. MARTIN Marsannay Grands Vignes ,2010 ($31.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Grands Vignes, 2009($31.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Grands Vignes, 2007($29.39)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Grands Vignes, 2006($24.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Grands Vignes, 2004($21.84)
On a more classic limestone terroir just above the village in the southern middle of the appellation. I think this should be 1er cru.

St. MARTIN Marsannay Finottes 2006 ($25.64)
Finottes is on sandy terroir (sand = elegance) just south of Longerois and below Echezots.

St. MARTIN Marsannay Echezots 2009 ($31.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Echezots 2007 ($29.39)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Echezots 2006 ($24.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Echezeaux 2003 ($23.99)
Echezeaux (Echezots) is on a more classic limestone terroir at the top of the slope toward the north end. I think should be 1er cru.

St. MARTIN Marsannay Champs Salomon 2010 ($34.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Champs Salomon 2009 ($32.99)
St. MARTIN Marsannay Champs Salomon 2004 ($23.99)
Champas Salomon is on a more classic limestone terroir located mid-slope just across the border in Couchey

LECHENEAUT Marsannay Les Sampagny 2010 ($52.24)
LECHENEAUT Marsannay Les Sampagny 2009 ($49.79)
At the south end of Couchey (next to Fixin) toward the botton of the slope.

FOUGERAY de BEAUCLAIR Marsannay Gras 2009              $35.99)
LOUIS LATOUR Marsannay 2011                                            $21.49