In 1395, Phillip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, banned what he called the ”très mauvais” (very bad) gamay grape from Burgundy, relegating it to Beaujolais, a less prestigious area further south. But as with many royal decrees, not everybody listened. So there is still plenty of gamay planted in Burgundy, even though pinot noir is considered the red grape of that region.
Gamay, which can produce marvelous wine in Beaujolais — just try Maison Louis Jadot’s 2002 Château des Jacques — is still used for low-end red Burgundies, labeled Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, which is rarely found in the United States, and a curious blended wine, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, that is available on these shores. Most blended wines are made by harvesting and fermenting individual grape varieties separately and then blending. But Bourgogne Passetoutgrain is made using the less expensive ”field blend” technique. The grapes, gamay and a minimum of one-third pinot noir, are harvested and fermented together.
Michel Lafarge, as talented and dedicated as any Burgundian producer, owns about 25 acres of vineyards in and around his hometown of Volnay. His wines from ordinary vineyards in Volnay, made entirely from pinot noir, surpass many other producers’ wines from exalted, or premier cru, vineyards in that town. He also makes a glorious Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, in part because his blend includes 50 percent pinot noir, well above the minimum. The distinctiveness also comes from 30- to 45-year-old vines, which winemakers prize for their more flavorful grapes. Both the pinot noir and gamay are planted in the same vineyard, just outside the town of Volnay.
Lafarge is as careful with his Passetoutgrain as with his more expensive Volnays. He ensures while harvesting that only ripe grapes go into the fermenting vats. He avoids pumping the juice during fermentation and aging to minimize damaging the skins and seeds, so that they do not release astringent tannins into the wine.
The care shows. His 2002 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, from a great year for Burgundy in general, has fruitiness, spiciness, and unexpected depth and plushness. It’s a versatile wine, suitable for an important meal or to enliven Thursday night take-out.
Domaine Michel Lafarge, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, 2002. About $20. Distributed by Berkshire Wines Inc., 413-644-3222.
April 21, 2005.