Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: The Côte de Beaune’s Great Secret

Posted on Posted in Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

Introducing Jean-Marc Pillot’s 2017 Red Wines

Along with its neighbors Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet is viewed today as one of white Burgundy’s “big three”—a world-famous village synonymous with layered, mineral-driven, age-worthy Chardonnay. However, a peek into even the relatively recent past reveals that Chassagne-Montrachet was more renowned for red wine for most of its viticultural history. According to our grower partner Sylvain Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet was planted two-thirds to Pinot Noir and one-third to Chardonnay up through the late 1970s, when a shift began to occur; by the mid-1990s, plantings were roughly equivalent; and today, Chardonnay outnumbers Pinot Noir 75% to 25%, gaining ground with each passing year.

This shift in fashion has certainly made things easier on the growers, who can fetch significantly higher prices for white wines which require no fussing over tannin-extraction during fermentation and which generally undergo a briefer passage in barrel. The obvious downside is a diminution of output and diversity in what is truly a phenomenal terroir for Pinot Noir; as Matt Kramer wrote in his classic Making Sense of Burgundy (1990), “The best premiers crus of Chassagne-Montrachet are not white but red.” The upside, however, is twofold: the Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge that does remain in production generally comes from quite old vines, since plots are generally replanted to Chardonnay these days; and the growers that do still produce red Chassagne-Montrachet are extra-committed to the cause, flouting fashion and eschewing easy money in order to preserve something they know to be exceptional.

We at RWM have been working with the tireless Jean-Marc Pillot for over twenty years now, and the chiseled white wines he wrests from his enviable holdings throughout Chassagne-Montrachet sell out before they reach our shores. Fewer drinkers are aware of Pillot’s quartet of red Chassagne-Montrachet, however, which easily represents among the best values in our Burgundy portfolio. Jean-Marc prioritizes vivacity in his wines, and his red Burgundies wed exuberant fruit to mouthwatering acidity, offering soaring aromatics boosted by his judicious employment of whole clusters during fermentation—a technique he implemented beginning with the 2016 vintage. Soil notes are ever-present but never overwhelming, and even in their ripest incarnations these are wines of lip-smacking, carefully etched minerality.

We are preparing to receive Pillot’s Chassagne-Montrachet reds from the 2017 harvest—a well-yielding vintage whose relative openness enhances the impression of freshness that always marks Jean-Marc’s Pinot Noir. Tasting wines this pleasurable and distinctive perhaps makes one regretful that fewer and fewer red wines are being produced from this village each year. Today, however, these gorgeous wines are affordable, accessible, and available—and, as anyone in the game knows, it is increasingly rare that a great red Burgundy hits all three of those marks in this day and age.

2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge “Mes Vieilles Vignes”
Jean-Marc’s “Mes Vieilles Vignes” comes from a hectare’s worth of Pinot Noir planted in the late 1950s and early 1960s, from several parcels throughout the village. Jean-Marc employs no new wood in the elevage here, which allows the deep, succulent, earth-kissed red fruit to shine, offering an old-vines sense of sappiness on an energetic frame.

2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Les Macherelles”
Pillot owns a 0.37-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir in Les Macherelles, planted in 1954. Raised in around 30% new barrels, Macherelles emphasizes mineral tension and focus on the palate; it is brisker and less brooding than the Morgeot-Fairendes below, but with a notable concentration lent by the beautifully tended old vines.

2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Morgeot – Les Fairendes”
Jean-Marc owns a 0.65 parcel of 1967-planted Pinot Noir in the prized Les Fairendes sector of the premier cru Morgeot—a stonier site of poor topsoil capable of profound, gutsy, Nuits-Saint-Georges-like mineral power. Pillot’s version is darker-fruited and thicker than his Macherelles, with the 2017 showing a deep, appetizing salinity.

2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Clos Saint-Jean”
Pillot owns a staggeringly old planting of Pinot Noir—from 1910—in this premier cru widely considered to be the best site for red wine in all of Chassagne-Montrachet. Like the most distinguished red-wine terroirs in the Côte d’Or tend to do, Clos Saint-Jean offers both power and finesse, as well as an elemental harmony, and Jean-Marc’s 2017 is kaleidoscopic—classically structured while remaining accessible at this youthful stage.

Also arriving:

2019 Bourgogne Blanc “Le Haut des Champs”
From two parcels, one just below Chassagne-Montrachet on the slope and one just below Puligny-Montrachet, Pillot’s vibrant “Le Haut des Champs” is raised half in stainless steel and half in oak, offering an appealing combination of acid-driven snap and textural sumptuousness.

2019 Bourgogne Rouge “Les Grandes Terres”
Jean-Marc’s exceptional Bourgogne Rouge comes from a 65-year-old parcel of Pinot Noir in Remigny, and he ages it entirely in previously used barrels in order to emphasize its lip-smacking red fruit and graceful balance.

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