Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exploring Burgundy: Bourgogne Passetoutgrain

In one sense, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain is one of the easiest to understand of Burgundy’s multitude of appellations. Just follow the typical blending recipe of around 1/3 Pinot Noir and 2/3 Gamay – the fruit can be grown anywhere in Burgundy – and you’ve got the basics covered.

Of course, there’s at least a little more to it than that. Passetoutgrain (sometimes written as Passe-Tout-Grains) is a regional appellation spanning over 1200 hectares of potential vineyard area from the Yonne Department in the north to the Mâconnais in the south. Unlike Bourgogne Rouge, which is nearly always varietal Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain must always be a blended red wine. The AOC discipline requires at least 1/3 Pinot Noir and allows for up to but not more than 2/3 Gamay. Additionally, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris may be included up to a cumulative maximum of 15%. All varieties are typically co-fermented. The wines are generally designed for early, casual drinking.

As with the misleadingly apparent simplicity of understanding Bourgogne Rouge, there can actually be much more to Passetoutgrain than the above definitions suggest. Stylistic expressions of Passetoutgrain don’t tend to be as diverse as with Bourgogne Rouge. However, as with Bourgogne, a Passetoutgrain from a large négociant house may include fruit sourced from throughout all of Burgundy, truly a broadly regional expression. The wine from a small grower, on the other hand, may come solely from one village or even one vineyard. While I’d never hold up a Passetoutgrain as an exemplar of the typicity of, say, Gevrey or Chambolle, a PTG sourced purely from one of those villages is likely to have different character than one from the Mâcon or from one that represents a hodgepodge of sources. Add to that the available blending options, not to mention the question of quality, and there’s actually quite a range of possibilities. If such things matter to you – hence much of the conundrum with understanding Burgundy – the only real way to begin to know the wine is to get to know the producer.

Bourgogne Passetoutgrain “L’Exception,” Domaine Michel Lafarge 2004
Domaine Lafarge, a twelve-hectare property situated in Volnay, traces its history back to the early 19th Century. Frédéric Lafarge, working alongside his father Michel, converted the estate to completely biodynamic practices as of 2000. Lafarge’s “L’Exception” is a special cuvée, produced from very old vines, which has built a reputation for being more cellar-worthy than most other Passetoutgrains, including the estate’s regular bottling. This 2004 would seem to speak to that, as it’s still carrying plenty of vitality and should live at least a few more years before beginning its decline. It’s medium-bodied, lean and edgy in texture, with granitic minerality and a spicy, smoky personality. Clove, corned beef and pipe resin dominate the nose, while a stemmy, red berry character buzzes through on the palate. A classic Passetoutgrain sparring match between high-toned background notes and a rustic exterior. It’s also very food friendly. $25. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Cellars Ltd., Briarcliff, NY.

Vineyard image courtesy of Domaine Michel Lafarge.


Joe Roberts, CSW said...

Thanks, man - I've always wondered what a PTG tasted like!

David McDuff said...

I appreciate the compliment that seems implicit in your comment, Joe. Write as I might, though, there's still no replacement for tasting one yourself. Luckily, there are other good examples on the market at around $15, so taking a bottle home need not set you back as much as would Lafarge's "L'Exception."

Sonadora said...

Great post Davis, thanks for all the information, definitely not a wine region I'm at all familiar with, but that's why I read your blog! :)

David McDuff said...

Davis, huh? That's actually funny, Sonadora, even though I know it was just a typo. I worked with a woman many years ago who made the same typo at some point and it turned into a running nickname/joke for the next few years. Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found the post informative.

Sonadora said...

Oops!! Sorry for the typo!

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