About The Wine
Bruno Clair’s red Marsannay lieux-dits are an insightful set of terroirs to taste together because they are three quite different personalities from vineyards not so far from each other; they’re no more than a kilometer apart.
In the cellar, the winemaking is more or less the same between them. In the past they didn’t employ whole clusters in any notable quantity with any of their wines until the arrival of Bruno’s son, Edouard, in 2015. As with all of Bruno’s red wines, the wines go through spontaneous yeast fermentation without added cultured yeast. These three wines have historically had a portion aged in foudre that I believe were about 15-25hl. The rest are aged in Burgundy barrels (228-liter, French oak) with somewhere around 20% of them new.
In navigating their differences we can start with altitude. Vaudenelles is the highest; Grasses Têtes is in the middle of the slope—you know, that sweet spot on the slope always talked about in Burgundy; and Longeroies runs the gamut from the top to the bottom—another telling attribute that leads to this wine’s broad range.
Then there’s the soil structure, which is quite diverse. The 1.28 hectare parcel of Les Vaudenelles is extremely shallow clay topsoil, and at the top only a dozen or so centimeters deep. In Les Grasses Têtes there’s plenty of clay topsoil and those big limestone chunks they call grasses têtes—fat heads—scattered about his two-hectare parcel. Clair’s Les Longeroies is divided among four sections, two in the top and two in the bottom. The upper zone, Dessus des Longeroies, is as rocky as one may guess and the lower zone, Bas des Longeroies, has a lot more of red clay and marl. Clair has 1.55 hectares total in this climat.
Then we can consider their exposures. Marsannay has a series of combes, small dry limestone or chalk valleys carved out by erosion in former times. The biggest combe in this appellation also created the path of the D108 highway that goes up and out of Marsannay toward the west. On the fringe of the dejection cone (or alluvial fan) filled with debris, on the north side you’ve got Les Longeroies lower down on the slope tilted in a southeast direction on a soft slope. Les Vaudenelles is on the other side of this very wide dejection cone area, but facing mostly east, higher up at the top of the hillslope and subject to the winds from the combe that keeps it cooler than the other two climats. Les Grasses Têtes is completely outside of any combe and nestled on classical Côte d’Or limestone stratification.
A short review and the implications of the terroir specifics:
Les Vaudenelles is high up, almost no topsoil, tons of rock and bedrock, exposed, east facing. These are the reasons why this wine is the most taut, high-toned, fresh, light in color and drinks as much like a white wine as it does a red.
Les Grasses Têtes is mid-slope—ideally situated, deep clay soil and big chunks of rock bring power and coolness to the wine, it’s protected so it can fully ripen, its east facing brings tension, and classical stratification (a result of not being inside one of the combs) makes it more like other wines further south, like Gevrey-Chambertin Village wines on the south side. The resulting wine is deeper, more brooding, more classic in some four square sense with respect to its balance—with no real highs or lows.
Les Longeroies runs from the top to the bottom of the hill giving it more diverse dimension; it’s exposed to the elements which may elevate its tension and aromatic lift; the southeast-facing brings more sun; the top parcel is stony—this may increase the strength of its mineral impressions; and the bottom is more clay which likely imparts roundness and power. Les Longerioes often stands out in a tasting (however not necessarily the top wine when one works through an entire bottle with the proper time and the setting of the moment it’s drunk) because of its aromatic lift and balance of tension, finesse and strength.
To each his own, but all three Marsannays have their preferable occasion. Imagine a slightly chilled Les Vaudenelles on a warm day, Les Grasses-Têtes when you’ve got some time and someone to share it with, and Longeroies for any occasion, big or small, winter or summer. -TV